Professor Bernhard Grzimek was born April 24, 1909 in Prussian Silesia. He studied veterinary medicine for which he received a doctorate in 1933. During World War II, he worked as a veterinarian in Berlin. But, in early 1945, his apartment was raided by the Gestapo, because he had repeatedly supplied food to hidden Jews. He fled to Frankfurt which was occupied by U.S. forces, and, later became a renowned German zoo director, zoologist and author.
On May 1, 1945, Grzimek became director of the Frankfurt Zoological Garden. The zoo was in ruins and had only 20 surviving animals. Once the bomb craters were filled and buildings temporarily repaired, the zoo reopened July 1, 1945. He led the zoo until his retirement in 1974, making the Frankfurt Zoo one of the largest zoological gardens in Germany.
Most notably, he was known for filming the German documentary, Serengeti Darf Nicht Sterben, or Serengeti Shall Not Die, for us English speakers. The film, released in German in 1959, covered years of study of the Serengeti migration with his son, Michael. Grzimek believed in the beauty of creation saying, "Large cities continue to proliferate. In the coming decades and centuries, men will not travel to view marvels of engineering, but they will leave the dusty towns in order to behold the last places on earth where God’s creatures are peacefully living. Countries which have preserved such places will be envied by other nations and visited by streams of tourists. There is a difference between wild animals living a natural life and famous buildings. Palaces can be rebuilt if they are destroyed in wartime, but once the wild animals of the Serengeti are exterminated no power on earth can bring them back". Though the film would consume the personal savings of both Bernhard and Michael, it earned them the Oscar in 1960 in the Documentary category. The film was then re-released in 20 other languages. It was enormously accepted by the public and played a major role in the creation of the Serengeti National Park, which now covers 5700 square miles..
Much of the observation was achieved from the air in his zebra-striped Dornier, a single engine plane. At the age of 48, Bernhard, and Michael, age 23, had learned to fly, bought the plane, painted the famous zebra stripes (shown above) and headed to Africa. By flying over the great herds of the Serengeti, the Grzimeks would record their species, numbers, locations and migrations. The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, having 2000 foot high walls, was the perfect Petri dish, having vast herds of different species residing in one isolated caldera. Bernhard was so taken by the crater in that he said, "It is impossible to give a fair description of the size and beauty of the Crater, for there is nothing with which one can compare it. It is one of the Wonders of the World". But, the beauty of the crater would be tarnished in 1959, when his son, Michael, while flying the Dornier alone, would hit a Griffon Vulture and crash near the rim of the caldera. Michael was killed. He was buried on the outer rim of the crater. A memorial now stands with the inscription, "HE GAVE ALL HE POSSESSED INCLUDING HIS LIFE FOR THE WILD ANIMALS OF AFRICA".
Without Michael, Bernhard would continue his conservation work, writing books and producing television programs until his death on March 13, 1987. He had taken a group of children to a circus where he fell asleep during a performance. He was 77 years old. His ashes were later transferred to Tanzania to be buried by his son on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. His inscription reads, "A LIFETIME OF CARING FOR WILD ANIMALS AND THEIR PLACE ON OUR PLANET IT IS BETTER TO LIGHT A CANDLE THAN TO CURSE THE DARKNESS".
Due to the Grzimek's dedication, passion and sacrifice, the Serengeti Shall Not Die.