Arts | Politics | Economy | Education & Sciences19 Nov 2017
Grzimek's Heritage
16 Mar 2007 - Africa Regional Office, Frankfurt Zoological Society

Professor Bernhard Grzimek died 20 years ago on 13th March 1987. He first came to prominence when he took over the ruins of the Frankfurt Zoo at the end of World War II. Over the years, he turned the Frankfurt Zoological Society into a powerful conservation organisation. He and the Society played the major part in setting up the Serengeti Research Institute and the Mweka Wildlife College where many of today's African wardens receive their training.
When he took over the Franfurt Zoo, there were only a few animals left alive among the wreckage, but the persuasiveness and determination that were to become Grzimek's trademarks were already in evidence. Not only did he co-opt the occupying allied forces to help with feeding and re-housing the animals, he also took advantage of the chaotic situation to acquire adjacent bomb sites to increase the size of the zoo.

In the 1950's he was able to make collecting trips overseas, mostly to Africa, and the plight of wildlife in the countries he visited started him on a campaign that was to last his lifetime. In 1956 he wrote a book, "No room for wild animals" which became a best-seller and he and his son, Michael, made a film of the same title which earned great praise and made quite a lot of money. The Grzimeks' offered their profits to the administration of the Tanzania National Parks in order to buy more land to add to the Serengeti.

The then Director, Peter Molloy, suggested that a better use of the money would be to fund a survey to map the movement of the great herds that migrated across the Serengeti. Only if they knew where these animals went, could they draw up sensible boundaries for the National Park.

Bernhard Grzimek didn't just provide funding, he rose to that challenge personally. At the age of 48 he and his 23 year old son learned to fly, bought a Dornier STOL aircraft and set off for Africa to count and follow the great herds. Over the next two years they were able to establish the migration routes of the wildebeest and provide an invaluable baseline for future research. They also made a film about their work "Serengeti Shall Not Die" which won an Oscar and is perhaps the best-known and most influential wildlife film ever made.

Over the years, Professor Grzimek turned the Frankfurt Zoological Society from a small group of local zoo enthusiasts into a powerful conservation organisation that now funds projects across the world. He and the Society played the major part in setting up the Serengeti Research Institute and the Mweka Wildlife College where many of today's African wardens receive their training.

Much of the funding and publicity for the Society's projects was raised through Grzimek's television series, "A Place for Animals" which, for many years, was the highest rated television programme in Germany. He also started and edited Europe's most successful animal magazine, "Das Tier", edited the monumental "Grzimek's Tierleben", a 17-volume animal encyclopaedia and wrote several books and countless articles. He could get by on about 3 hours sleep a night, and would completely exhaust the younger companions who took him on their safaris.

Every year he returned to his beloved Africa where he and his cameraman and colleague of 30 years, Alan Root, would safari to new areas that might need help with conservation problems. His main interest was getting out his message and especially to the next generation. It was fitting, therefore, that when he died he was with a group of children that he had taken to the circus and he simply fell asleep.
Britta Gallmayer
On May 1, 1945, a veterinarian from Upper Silesia, Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, was appointed director of the Frankfurt Zoo. During his first years as director, he was primarily concerned with rebuilding the Zoo, which had been completely destroyed. Much of the necessary construction was made possible by funds donated by friends of the Zoo, who had once again begun to meet regularly after the war. On February 15, 1950, these patrons joined together to form the "Society of Friends and Supporters of the Zoological Gardens e.V.," which raised badly needed money for the Zoo. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the defunct Zoological Society, the decision was made to revive the traditional name of the original Society. Beginning in 1958 there was once again a "Frankfurt Zoological Society," later amended to "Frankfurt Zoological Society of 1858" - FZS for short.

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Sites for this article:
Frankfurt Zoological Society - Africa

Zoo Frankfurt

Grzimek - CV

Education and Science
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