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Orlando Garrido

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reprinted from Caribbean Conservation Trust


Orlando Garrido

retired and former curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History in Havana


On Monday June 24th, Orlando Garrido passed away peacefully in Havana at the age of 93. Orlando will undoubtedly be remembered as Cuba’s most prolific native-born natural scientist. He was an incredible man in so many ways… a gifted scientist, educator, and mentor to at least 2 generations of Cuban naturalists, and to the surprise of many, an accomplished athlete. His scientific profile spanned 4 disciplines – ornithology, herpetology, invertebrate biology and ichthyology. His contributions to each, especially ornithology, were significant. In addition, Orlando has at least one species of fresh water fish and 7 species of Cuban endemic reptiles that he has described. Over many winters working in Puerto Rico he assembled what is considered to be the largest private collection of insects in the Caribbean.

One of the most fortunate decisions I made in nearly 30 years of hosting U.S. birders in Cuba was to ask Orlando if he would mind if our small groups indulged him in his study to review his mounted collection of Cuban endemics as a point of reference prior to heading out to the field to find birds. Previously we would visit his former employer, the National Museum of Natural History in Havana, which had an abundant collection, but was rife with typically inexplicable bureaucratic complications which resulted in this resource eventually being unavailable to our groups. In the end, this was a blessing in disguise. 

Orlando wholeheartedly welcomed our small groups to his home. With a countless number of visits with our birders to his library, I never tired of the reaction from our groups when they learned that he had also been an elite tennis player, with 5 Wimbledons under his belt as well as official commendation in the U.S. Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. He was a consummate storyteller, and skillfully connected visiting U.S. ornithologists and ordinary birders to some of the most significant contributors to Cuban ornithology in the past and current century.

Orlando never seemed to stop working, expanding his knowledge, and contributing to his field. Throughout this life long journey he remained very humble, accessible and approachable. He was much appreciated by the hundreds of visitors to his home and library in Playa. In his retirement, this was both an important source of income for him as well as a means of remaining connected to other naturalists and citizen scientists who benefitted from his enormous base of knowledge and seemingly unlimited energy and enthusiasm. I was very pleased to learn that after 2015, when legal travel to Cuba became much easier for U.S. Citizens, that other groups of U.S. birders coming to Cuba for the first time chose to include a visit with Orlando in their itineraries. Even after his lovely wife Gloria passed about a year ago, he was still enthusiastically welcoming our groups to his home. I have to think that these visits were something of an emotional comfort to him as well.   

Orlando Garrido will be deeply missed by so many. He remains an inspiration to our interest in bird conservation and exploration in Cuba. Please share this information with birding colleagues that may have a connection to Orlando or to Cuba.

Rest in Peace 


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