Juan Miguel Artigas Azas,
Cichlid Room Companion

Interview with: Philippe Burnel, Jan-2008

By , 2008. image

Classification: People and associations.

" Philippe Burnel, aquarist, photographer, webmaster, editor, and writer is one of the most influential personalities in the French cichlid hobby and is known by his many contributions to cichlid knowledge worldwide. Philippe was for many years the editor of the "Revue Francaise des Cichlidophiles", the bulletin of the French Cichlid Association, and was an important part on the consolidation of the organization, one of the largest and more influential in the cichlid world nowadays. Thanks to Philippe to agree on answering to these questions "

Philippe Burnel, aquarist, photographer, webmaster, editor, and writer is one of the most influential personalities in the French cichlid hobby and is known by his many contributions to cichlid knowledge worldwide. Philippe was for many years the editor of the "Revue Francaise des Cichlidophiles", the bulletin of the French Cichlid Association, and was an important part on the consolidation of the organization, one of the largest and more influential in the cichlid world nowadays. Thanks to Philippe to agree on answering to these questions.

Philippe Burnel training in a river, 2007
Philippe Burnel after swimming five kilometers in a river in Normandy, France, Autumn 2007.

Philippe could you tell me something about your background with aquarism and cichlids? How did you start and what have been your interests?

I started with aquariums late in my life, in 1976. I was 21 at that time and I wanted to keep goldfish. But, unfortunately that was a very hot year in France with a long period of drought. My father, who was a pike fisherman, brought me back a few goldfish from a small lake but all the fishes were sick because of the drought. The owner of a pet shop where I've bought a small aquarium told me that exotic fishes were much easier to keep than goldfish. That’s how I began to keep exotic fishes: Bettas, Guppies, Danios, Puntius were my first favorites. In 1978 I left Britany to go to Normandy where my young wife was from and where I still live nowadays. In Normandy pet shops, I discovered some interesting fishes coming from America and the great lakes of Africa. So I bought a large tank (120 liters) and my first "nigros", leleupi, moorii.. I quickly realized that my tank was really too small! So in 1980 when I've bought my house I also bought a larger tank (300 liters). In the same time I was one of the first members of the French Cichlid Association in Normandy in 1980/81 and met a few aquarists fond of cichlids in the region. Among them, a guy was about to open a pet shop, specialized in cichlids. He was very much for the quality of fishes and against man-made or hybrid fishes. I still carry on his points of view after more than 25 years as I think it’s the most important fight to make. In his pet shop I saw and bought my first wild caught cichlids, specially "Haps", which were really my first favorite cichlids. At the same time the number and size of my tanks was growing! Then I discovered Lake Tanganyika cichlids, the most interesting cichlids to keep, in my opinion, specially the lamprologines which are really my favorites after more than 20 years, even if South American cichlids have now taken a part of the Tanganyikan in my tanks after a short "mbuna period". During the mid-80’s I was responsible of the AFC (French Cichlid Association) in Normandy. This was the period when I met the great French cichlid specialists: Jean-Claude Nourissat, Robert Allgayer and all the members of the national committee. In 1989 Patrick Tawil, who was editor of the bulletin of the AFC asked me to help him. During 12 years I was the guy who searched for articles, pictures, and who gave these articles a correct French language!

What is your education and what do you do for living, would you tell us about your family?

After being a student at the University in Rennes (Britany) I'm now a sports teacher in a school in the neighbourhood of the city of Rouen in Normandy. In France sport teachers work only 20 hours a week, that’s why I've time for my various passions. I've been married for 30 years (with the same wife, which is really not easy.. for her) and we have 3 boys (28, 26 and 22). I'll be a proud grandfather at the beginning of 2008.

Would you tell us something about the aquarism in France? What is the regular French hobbyist interested in and how it carries it?

Great problem! But I think it’s a worldwide problem! When I came to Rouen in 1978, there was about 15 small pet shops in the region. All of them belonged to real aquarists. You could get information about the fishes given by a guy who loved fishes and who knew what is good for them. Now there are only 2 small pet shops opened in the region. For about 15 years large pet shops have been opened, and sell fishes as well as birds, dogs, cats, mice, plants. The vendors are rarely true aquarists. They sell fishes but could sell anything else, box canned or craft materials. The fishes are of bad quality, hybridized, man-made, colored, and often incorrectly named. It’s really difficult to get natural fish because French aquarists are looking for the most colored fish, and often the less natural is the most colored. The 1rst thing an aquarist asks is to get something "nice to see", he gives no importance to their geographical origin, water chemistry, behavior, etc.. The tank must be "nice" in the way he thinks "nice" is. That’s why for him a blood-parrot is much more nice than a wild caught "nigro" and why the reproduction of Greek colons is really "nice to see" in his tank (But when I look to US cichlid forums, I see that this illness is also well established in the United States (maybe much more than in France). Nowadays it’s really difficult to get wild cichlids. Fortunately there are specialized association (AFC for Cichlids, KCF for killies, AFV for livebearers) which provide natural fishes reproduced by their members.

How was the French Cichlid Association formed? Would you tell us about the organization?

The AFC was born back in 1979/1980. A few French cichlidophiles believed that an organization was necessary to gather all the aquarists fond of cichlids in France, so they created the French Cichlid Association. Jean-Claude Nourissat, Robert Allgayer, Jean-Pierre Hacard, Jean Marie Londiveau and Jean Carlus were among the first members. This association quickly grew everywhere in France to become one of the largest cichlid association in the world. In Europe, only the German DCG is larger. But now the AFC has lost 45% of its members during the last 8 years, certainly Internet is the cause of this.

The AFC has a national committee with a President, Treasurer, Editor, etc and regional responsibles who must organize meetings with conferences and fish auctions everywhere in France. Each year a very large congress is organized, with a very large fish sell, and lectures given by famous aquarists from all over the world.

The AFC edits a bulletin each month, a book each year (the "An cichlid" a kind of "Cichlid yearbook"). The association also edited a book named "Le Guide des Cichlidés" for it 20th anniversary, as well as the "Endemic Cichlids of Madagascar" and a book about Central American cichlids. Another book about South American cichlids is now under preparation.

Being yourself editor of the Revue Francaise des Cichlidophiles for many years, you must have had many experiences about it, could you tell us about the newsletter, it's development and perhaps some experiences you had editing it?

Difficult to answer because I've left that assignment about 6 years ago and I don't have any relationship with AFC since about 5 years ago. I think it’s quite a different job now, with computers. I suppose the editor doesn't receive anymore hand-written papers with bad pictures. From a bulletin which was just a copy we have now a high quality printed bulletin. A few years ago, it was really difficult to get nice pictures because there was no many photographers (paper or slides) now with digital cameras, the number of photographers increased as well as the quality of the pictures. It’s also much more easy to work on pictures to make them nicer. The best memories that I have from this period of my life is the intellectual enrichment that it provided me and the pleasure to work with wonderful persons such as Patrick Tawil or the late Hugues Gellereau.

I had the great honor to attend the Vichy annual meeting as a guest speaker back in 1999, and was nicely surprised by the sheer size and unique nature of it compared to conventions in other countries, particularly the auction was unique, would you tell us about the structure and history of the meeting?

The organization of the meeting is made by a local team. I can only tell you that it’s really a difficult job that takes about one year of preparation. The organization team must be congratulated each year. This kind of meeting was first organized in 1980 in an university of Paris. I remember my first annual meeting at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1981, with Pierre Brichard as speaker. The following years, the meeting was organized one year in Paris, and then in different French cities (Strasbourg, Marseille, Chalon). Then Vichy has been chosen for many years because it’s in center of France, easy to access, and, most of all, we can find there everything we need (rooms, restaurant, conference room, etc) in a very small area. But Vichy is not always our meeting point. Revel (near Toulouse) also hosted our congress during some of the past years. Next year will be in Nancy.

Great speakers have come to our congress : Pierre Brichard, Walter Deproost, Ad Konings, Juan Miguel Artigas, Paul Loiselle (who won a cow in our raffle), Willem Heijns, H. Buscher, Uwe Werner, H. W. Dickof, Anton Lamboj, Patrick de Rham, Wolfgang Staeck and so many others (I apologize for the forgotten ones). But as aquarism is no longer my main hobby I don't go anymore to these annual meetings (the last one being in 2001!).

Philippe I know you are interested in orchids, how big a hobby it is for you? Is it something like aquariums?

No it’s not like aquariums! it’s much more important. I've no fun with aquariums as before (at least I have less fun than I did before, for different reasons). Orchids are now a great hobby for me, not only exotic species (they take much more room in my home than my two last aquariums!) but also, and mainly, the local species. Not to have them in my garden, but to find them and photograph them in their natural habitat and help in their protection. I travel everywhere around France during spring and summer months only to get pictures of their nice flowers. I'm webmaster of the regional orchid chapter of the "Société française d’orchidophilie" ( editor of the annual bulletin of the same regional chapter and, finally I have created a forum about French and European orchids ( So, you see that I spend much more time with orchids than with cichlids lately, even if I still keep an eye opened on cichlid taxonomy and I still write a few articles for the aquarist journal Aqua-Plaisir, created (among others) by Jean-Claude Nourissat and Patrick de Rham.

Would you tell us about your popular home page ( What are the plans you have for it?

Well, I'd would like to make it much more "modern" but I think I'll not do it! too much work, no enough energy. I regularly add cichlid pictures, I have many pictures of orchids and insects too.

As an achieved photographer, I see you have obtained wonderful panorama and macro pictures. Would you tell us about your equipment and interests?

When I bought my first digital camera I found entertaining to get pictures of flowers and insects. I have now a Canon Eos 400D with a 50 mm macro lens, a Sigma 105 macro lens and very recently I've got a Sigma 70-300 macro! Insects, spiders are really fantastic on a macro picture. The panorama pictures are made with a program that gathers pictures. The largest one "baie de Somme" is made with 9 pictures, some other are made with three or four pictures. I discovered this program a few months ago so I have not much experience in it but I think that there will be new pictures this year (I plan to go to Venezia in February and I will make some panorama pictures of Piazza de San Marco.

Who has influenced you the most in your aquarium interests?

The first one was certainly the friend who had a pet shop in the 80’s. Then there are friends that are (or were) very important to me such as Jean-Claude Nourissat or Patrick Tawil.

Thanks Philippe!

Philippe Burnel looking for orchids
Philippe Burnel looking for French native orchids, one of his passions.


Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (Jan 22, 2008). "Interview with: Philippe Burnel, Jan-2008". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Apr 17, 2024, from: