Tropical forests lose their great lady, Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury has left us


An engineer in rural engineering, water and forests, a civil servant on secondment from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD) since 1989, and a doctor of science (thesis in 1997 on the dynamics of a dense tropical rainforest stand in French Guiana), Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury was a very generous person.

A great scientist, with a rare honesty and rigor, she had always fully invested herself for tropical forests through numerous projects, several of which were carried out in collaboration with the ATIBT. Through the supervision of many young researchers, PhD students and trainees, she has actively contributed throughout her career to the training of young people in Africa, South America and Europe, transmitting her knowledge of the ecological dynamics of tropical forests. Sylvie has never ceased to fight so that the scientific evidence allows companies and governments to define management rules favorable to the preservation of these forest ecosystems that she cherished so much.

Totally devoted to research, education, and the promotion of rights and justice, Sylvie was always ready to listen to her colleagues and to lead them into new scientific and human adventures.

Everything she did, she did with intensity. Her energy seemed infinite.

Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury left us on Sunday January 22, 2023, surrounded by her loved ones. She leaves us with a treasure of knowledge and a solid foundation for further research on the dynamics of tropical forest stands.

The whole ATIBT team joins her husband, Bertrand Fleury, her two daughters and her colleagues in their grief.

You will find below the messages that many friends and colleagues of Sylvie have sent us.


Testimonials received at ATIBT


I am devastated by this departure. Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury was a friend, a true enthusiast of forestry research, who did a lot for our knowledge of the functioning and evolution of our ecosystems. Fortunately, researchers do not die because through their publications, they will continue to live on from generation to generation. 

Her kindness towards me was boundless. Yet very deferential to my current duties, she did not hesitate, whenever I was in Montpellier, to invite me either to a family meal or to a hike in the forests around Montpellier.

May she rest in peace our "chica de bosquet". Thank you for these moments in Nantes where I could see her again and discuss with her.  Condolences to all of us!

H.E. Rosalie Matondo, Minister of Forest Economy of the Republic of Congo


It is with great consternation that I learned this morning of the departure of Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury. It is a very sad news, when I remember the last CBFP meeting in which we had all participated in exploring ways and means to make a place for research in policy decisions.

Sylvie, you had particularly asked me with your team that COMIFAC could fully play this role. We kept in line with this concern by sending the policy note on the harmonization of MED that COMIFAC immediately transmitted to the member states of the COMIFAC space.

I will remember you fondly from the 2000s when I knew you during your frequent visits to Bangui in CAR to monitor the M'baiki system, but also for the hours of lectures you liked to give at the University of Bangui. We worked together in the framework of the PARFAF project financed by the AFD and executed by the consortium CIRAD-FRMi and TEREA from 2000 to 2011. You will be remembered for the Mbaiki project and the CAR, the country you loved so much. You will also be remembered by COMIFAC for your support to research on allometric equations for the estimation of forest carbon in aerial biomass as well as for all the support to the consecutive projects ADEFAC, P3FAC for which your orientation and your concerns were going to be contained in the next steps of these projects. But death took you away so quickly that I was stunned this morning when Benoit told me this sad news. You have finished your fight and we will continue this battle with the experts of your team who have a real concern to bring a deserved support to research in Central Africa.

Death! Wicked you are. Sylvie, go and rest in peace.

Hervé Maidou, Executive Secretary of COMIFAC


With the death of Sylvie, I have lost one of my best friends, a colleague like one dreams of having, passionate, constructive, curious about the perspectives of others. We had endless discussions, and we even wrote a joint article (in 2006) on the issue of sustainability in relation to the reconstitution of harvested species.  Among the many memories I have of our relationship, the 2005 World Forestry Congress in Brisbane was a highlight, with our great conversations on the way to and from the convention center, and our unlikely culinary adventures in Australian restaurants. More recently, it was the trip to Shanghai for the ATIBT forum in October 2019. Sylvie will make the most striking intervention of this event, not hesitating to question the sustainability of the development plans currently in force in Central Africa. The severity of her illness was known to us, but she had such a will, was carried by such a passion for her work and for tropical forests, that we ended up thinking that she would always be there, with her incredible energy, to propose new scientific adventures that could not wait... Her memory will not leave us.

Alain Karsenty, CIRAD


A great researcher has left us. P3FAC, Dynaffor, Coforchange, ... so many projects that owe their names and their success to Sylvie! Her passion, her commitment, her determination have left their mark on all those who have worked with her. Intellectually brilliant and of irreproachable scientific integrity, Sylvie has been, and will remain, a model for all. Her human qualities and her humility will always be engraved in our minds. In spite of the illness that consumed her, she never gave up. Slowing down was not an option for Sylvie. Until the last moment, she fulfilled her commitments and continued to be a force of ideas and proposals. With only one goal, the sustainable management of tropical forests! Today, Sylvie, the African forest and its majestic sapellis mourn you. Tomorrow, we will try to perpetuate your work.

Jean-Louis Doucet, University of Gembloux


More than a colleague, I am losing a dear friend. What memories, since we left together ten years ago in North-Congo to locate the installation sites of the devices she had developed and that we then installed and followed together until now. Never lost with her little compass in her pocket, knowing perfectly the distances covered with the habit of counting her steps, systematically sharing with the whole team the few dried fruits she brought for lunch and not despairing, after the day's work, of trying to make the team understand, by means of histograms traced on the ground, the usefulness of the work done... Goodbye "Maman Sylvie", as all the workers called you, each tree, each corner of the plots will remind us of the good times spent together.

Eric Forni, CIRAD


Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury was one of the CIRAD forestry specialists with whom we probably exchanged the most. She had an insatiable curiosity and boundless energy on all subjects concerning the forestry-wood sector in tropical regions, particularly in French Guiana and Central Africa, through the studies she led. In our field of wood science and technology, we worked together on a topic that she was passionate about, the relationship between stand growth, tree quality and wood quality. One of the last projects on which we exchanged with her concerned the species of the genus Khaya, a species under the spotlight, and their systematics, in relation to the sustainable management of stands. 

Patrick Langbour and Jean Gérard, CIRAD


During my career in forestry research, I met Mrs. Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury, a dynamic woman devoted and determined to the cause of forestry research in Central Africa, a bearer of hope for the future of the emblematic forestry research facility of M'Baïki in the Central African Republic, which she effectively contributed to the creation in 1982 and affectionately carried in her heart until her death.

Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury almost lost her life twice for the cause of the M'Baïki facility. In April 2013, when Mrs. Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury, accompanied by Mrs. Adeline Fayole and Mr. Fançois Lancrier had come to Bangui to launch the first "Salon du Bois et de la Forêt", the rebel coalition "SELEKA" took power. Sylvie and her team, who were on the device, had been trapped and threatened with death. They had finally been evacuated at night on March 29, 2013 by a special force. During the launch of the annual inventory campaign on the device in 2018, the delegation of researchers composed of the CIRAD team (Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury and Fabrice Bénédet), the University of Bangui (Pr Olga Diane Yongo and Dr. Olivia Semboli) and ICRA (Félix Allah Barem), leaving Bangui for M'Baïki, had been violently targeted, sequestered and threatened by the "ANTI BALAKA" in retaliation for the assassination on May 1, 2018 of the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima, ABE TOUGOUMALE BABA by the SELEKA.

Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury is known in the administrative, academic and research community in the Central African Republic for the unconditional love she has always carried for this device, for the training of researchers and for forestry research in CAR.

Sylvie, all the staff of the Ministry in charge of forests, the University of Bangui, the Higher Institute of Rural Development (ISDR) of M'Baîki, the Central African Institute of Agronomic Research (ICRA), the Forestry Development Fund (FDF) and the Forestry Research Support Project (ARF) are heartbroken by your unexpected death.

We send our deepest condolences to your husband, children, collaborators and all your loved ones and wish that your soul rests in peace in eternal rest. You remain engraved in our minds for your dedication and commitment to sustainable forest management in CAR. Goodbye Sylvie.

Felix Allah Barem, R2FAC


The announcement of Sylvie's death has affected me considerably. Sylvie was a great lady. Not being a forestry engineer myself, she always managed to make me understand the results of her research. Her passion, her strength, her perseverance to reach the end of her projects were simply remarkable. She inspired many, including me. We will miss you Sylvie, very much! My sincere condolences to her family and to CIRAD.

Françoise van de Ven, president of ATIBT


I still remember my first meeting with Sylvie in Kourou during a study visit in 1994. Since then, we had met regularly and she had associated me with some of her research work. She knew how to recognize and scientifically valorize the data that we, managers of forest concessions, collected during the elaboration of management plans. I will always remember this woman with her communicative dynamism and her deep and sincere convictions. What exciting and passionate exchanges were born from our different points of view! The forests are in mourning today.

 My colleagues at FRM share my emotion and join me in paying tribute to Sylvie, to her unstinting commitment to tropical forests, and to assure her family, her loved ones, her colleagues at CIRAD and all those who worked with her in Central Africa of our support.

Nicolas Bayol, FRM


Sylvie was someone we always admired. Her curiosity and need to understand the world made her a tireless researcher. In human terms, her courage and her enthusiasm to keep moving forward have left a deep impression on us. Sharing a part of her path has been an honor and a great pleasure, and we will miss her a lot.

Cecilia Julve, Nature+


When you met Sylvie, whatever the day, time or context, you had to be prepared to face an avalanche of project proposals and passionate debates on tropical forest management. Her boundless energy, contagious passion, and incomparable scientific culture were extremely effective tools to convince you to never stop investing in scientific research. Her thirst for knowledge could never stop, with each new research result raising more and more exciting questions. No problem was too complex to grasp when Sylvie explained it to you with her usual enthusiasm. She will leave me with the memory of a personality capable of moving mountains and gathering around a common cause thanks to her love for research, which could only be compared to her immense respect for forests.

Vincent Istace, CIB-Olam


I have known Sylvie since my CIRAD years in the 90s. I have always appreciated her unfailing dynamism for a better knowledge of forest ecosystems. On a more personal note, we shared the same desire to maintain the Mbaiki research facility in CAR, where I started my career. And this despite the difficulties. Just recently we were talking about this subject in order to find financial resources and ensure the permanence of the site. I hope that we will succeed in perpetuating her commitment which we will miss enormously.

Yann Petrucci, TEREA


Sylvie, it is thanks to you that I discovered the Central African Republic, and I was marked by your sensitivity to the slightest scratches inflicted on trees. Certainly, my perception of trees has been modified. Your passion for tropical forests has never failed, and during all these years of collaboration, I have always admired your objective and direct pugnacity during discussions in working meetings. Your memory will never leave me.

 Kasso Dainou, ex Nature+


It is with great sadness that we learn of the loss of your colleague Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury. We had worked together in the framework of the P3FAC project and we remembered her as an admirable woman, professional and very committed to the ecology of the dynamics of Central African forests. It is a great loss for her family, for us who considered ourselves as her relatives, her partners and her country. We hereby wish to extend to her family, colleagues, friends and the ATIBT on behalf of myself and PRECIOUS WOODS - CEB our deepest condolences and our warmest sympathy and assurance that we share this painful loss.

David Zakamdi, CEB-Precious Woods


At CIRAD, we receive many expressions of sympathy insisting on Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury's devotion to the cause of tropical forests. It is above all her human qualities that I would like to highlight: generosity, open-mindedness, humility, intelligence and vivacity are the first words that come to mind. An exceptional woman, really.

Guillaume Lescuyer, CIRAD


 When I complained about not having answers to my many questions as a young tropical planner, I knew, Sylvie, that you probably had the answer.  And if you didn't, then you mobilized your passion and your incredible energy to try to understand... The trees are crying today. Thank you Sylvie for all that you have brought to us, for your questioning, and for having helped us to understand a little of these magnificent tropical forest ecosystems that you carried in your heart.

Benoît Demarquez, TEREA


Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury is a passionate scientist at the service of tropical forests and has advanced research to contribute to the sustainability of forest ecosystems. Sylvie stayed several times on our Mindourou site within the framework of the DYNAFFOR project to follow the data collection devices on the trees in the heart of our Forest Management Units, seeking to understand, observe and interact with our staff in their natural environment. We remember her fascinating and passionate exchanges that reflected her knowledge and skills.

Michel Rougeron, PALLISCO-CIFM


It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury. We regret the loss of this admirable person, full of humanity.

An emblematic figure in tropical forest research, it was with dedication and humility that she made decisive contributions to a better understanding of the functioning of Central African forests and to improving their management. We at the FFEM admire her commitment and her work, which we have been honored to support for more than ten years.

We send our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends, as well as to her colleagues at CIRAD.

Aurélie Ahmim-Richard, for the Fonds Français pour l'Environnement Mondial


At Interholco, our fondest thoughts are with Sylvie. We have had an excellent collaboration with her and have appreciated her knowledge and competence as a first class researcher. She contributed a lot to the protection of biodiversity and the maintenance of tropical forests. Our condolences and sympathy to her family.



Like all of you, I am very sad, very very very sad... and like many people in this network, in this community, the meeting with "Madame" Sylvie changed a lot of things in my life... she introduced me to this tropical world, fascinating, and so fragile too. ... she trusted me at a time when even I wouldn't have bet on me... she guided many of my later choices, without necessarily knowing it, because she is such an inspiring person, in many aspects, honest, passionate, caring, and funny too, well Sylvie...

Adeline Fayolle, Nature+


It is very painful for us, she leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill. We share our pain with her family and all the relatives and the great family of tropical forest researchers. May her soul rest in peace. We will never forget you because artists live through their works.

Corneille Ewango, University of Kisangani



The tributes multiply following the announcement of the death.


Photo credit: FFEM