Juan Miguel Artigas Azas,
Cichlid Room Companion

Dr. Wayne S. Leibel

By , 2021. image
Last updated on 20-May-2021

Classification: People and associations.

" The cichlid world has lost one of its most prominent figures, and many people has lost a dear friend "

image Wayne Leibel.

The Cichlid Room Companion made 25 years of uninterrupted online presence this past May 6, and as such, I had planned to write this editorial about the event and summarize the experience of all these years. This was before I received the terrible news of the passing of my friend Dr. Wayne S. Leibel, one of the foremost figures of cichlid circles (as well as several other circles) in the United States. Dr. Leibel passing came as a great shock for me as for many other people who had the fortune to interact with him over the years. As has been witnessed on Social Media during the past few days, Wayne left a lasting mark on a great number of people, me included. Wayne’s departure sums up that of Phil Benes this year, another of the great people of the American cichlid hobby.

Since the beginning of the Cichlid Room Companion, Wayne was an outspoken supporter of the site, as he had been of my work on cichlids since years before.

I first knew about Wayne in the early 1980s because of his writings in Buntbarsche Bulletin (The bulletin of the American Cichlid Association) and Freshwater and Marine Aquarium (FAMA), a then popular fish-related magazine to which I was subscribed. One of the first articles I read by him was published in the Jan 1984 issue of FAMA and it was about one of Wayne’s favorite fish: Acarichthys heckelii (republished in the CRC in 1997; Leibel, 1997). In this fantastic article, Wayne goes over every aspect of this species' biology and taxonomy in a deep and yet easy-to-follow way. At the time, I should have read it at least five times. I hoped one day I would be able to write something that great, although the beauty and in-depth information contained in that article seemed (and still do) out of my reach. One of the interesting things about this particular article is that instead of having a happy ending in breeding this species; it is a rare article where Wayne reports on his repeated failures, but gave a solid base for somebody else to succeed. This article has remained one of my favorites ever and I came to understand that Wayne’s focus was always on education and not self-promotion.

In 1984 he wrote his two parts article “Of Pickled Fish and Ichthyological Sleuthing: A Primer for the Advanced Aquarist” (Leibel, 1985; 1985), which was published in the Jan-85 issue of FAMA, the reading of this classic article initiated me in ichthyology and promotion of cichlid information after I was encouraged by its content. Wayne mastered the interpretation of scientific information and its communication to non-scientists in simple terms, clearly intending to increase the level of the hobby and encourage people to get involved themselves.

Some years later in 1989 I attended the American Cichlid Association "International Cichlid Conference I" in Orlando, where I had my first face-to-face meeting with Wayne. It happened when I was drawn by some virtuoso accordion playing happening in one of the hotel areas, I approached, and there, surrounded by many people fascinated by the music I recognized Wayne from pictures of him, playing passionately his favorite instrument. I had no idea Wayne was so talented in other areas other than writing about science and I was amazed while listening to the beautiful accordion music. After he finished I waited for my turn to talk to him, not a short wait I must admit, as he was an incredibly popular person. When I introduced myself I was surprised at how humble this man was, he wanted to know everything about me and hardly left room for me to ask about him. He looked me directly in the eye and followed everything I said, asking for more. I felt humbled and nervous since his attitude conflicted with some of my past encounters with Ph.D. graduates; this is when I asked him if he was a Ph.D., I knew he was but it just didn’t fit. He candidly replied “yes, but I am still a nice guy”.

In 1997 Wayne agreed on one of the first interviews I made for the Cichlid Room Companion. In the interview, after going to a variety of fish-related topics I asked him if he had anything to add, his reply I reproduce here in full as it shows part of Wayne’s philosophy:

“ The hobby has been very good to me over the years. It has provided a wonderful vehicle to meet interesting people and participating in local and national clubs has kept me sane and away from the "know-it-all" academic types who I've worked with and been exposed to all of my life: I like to think I'm not one of them even if I derive my living in academe. I've enjoyed the writing and photography end of things, in addition to the simple pleasure of acquiring, raising, and breeding rare fish which has been the hallmark of my last 20 years in the hobby. More recently, I've gotten to travel and speak and have thoroughly enjoyed meeting aquarists from all over the country and the world, for instance, you Juan Miguel. There's no question I'm a "lifer" and will be raising fish, even if it’s a single tank of goldfish, until the day I die, whenever that will be. Down here in New Jersey, Bill Jacobs, who is 94 and still maintaining and breeding fish (no kidding), has been in the hobby for nearly 90 years! I don't know that I will top that achievement, but if I live that long I certainly intend to try. And no, I won't still be writing "Wayne's New World" by then! “.

“Wayne's New World” was his TFH magazine cichlid column about South American cichlids (Artigas Azas, 2013), which extended for 36 instances during the early 1990s, all of which I eagerly read as soon as they appeared and kept my subscription to TFH going.

Wayne was deeply involved in the organized hobby and a long-time frequent member of the Board of Trustees of the American Cichlid Association, for which he was also a fellow – The greatest honor the association gives. As part of the cadre, I received sometimes heated discussions among the BOT members on a variety of (sometimes small) topics. Wayne’s position contrasted with that of many members by its calming and cool attitude, which often helped to set down arguments.

More recently, his frequent Facebook posts were one of the main treats during my short visits to the social network, they were always witty, funny, and thought-provoking, just as Wayne was. I enjoyed them all, his feed being my favorite.

Wayne was always ready to help others. To better illustrate it, in the recent online meeting in Chris Biggs ‘The Mad Aquarist’ YouTube channel titled “A Life to Celebrate: Dr. Wayne S. Leibel”, which smoothly extended by over two hours, Chris talks about how being a young aquarist and Wayne already a university professor he would spend hours in the phone with him filling up on Chris eagerness for knowledge, and never being rushed or cut. As a person, Wayne was usually soft-spoken and calm, but as a speaker, he was very powerful, eloquent, organized, and clear, and often impressed me.

I now realize I can write and write about Wayne, I could extend on all the interactions I had with him and all the support I obtained from him as author and publisher of the Cichlid Room Companion, of all of our encounters, including one in which, both being invited to speak at Sacramento by Rich Bireley, Wayne, Laif Demason and me were driven by Rich to the vineyards in the area and learned that Wayne was also a wine lover and connoisseur, his talents and education were everywhere.

I will however stop now and give you a couple of recommendations to get to know more about Wayne Leibel (if you didn’t) from people who were close to him. The 1997 interview in the Cichlid Room Companion (Artigas Azas, 1997) is one of them, and as mentioned, the fantastic YouTube online meeting promoted and chaired by my friend Chris Biggs.

Farewell Wayne, your early departure is very sad and creates an empty space very difficult to fill up.

References (5):


Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (May 20, 2021). "Dr. Wayne S. Leibel". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Oct 04, 2023, from: