Bernhard Grzimek

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Bernhard Grzimek
Bernhard Klemens Maria Hoffbauer Pius Grzimek

(1909-04-24)24 April 1909
Died13 March 1987(1987-03-13) (aged 77)
Occupationtelevision host, filmmaker, author, zoo director, veterinarian, businessman
Years active1954–1987
Spouse(s)Hildegard Prüfer (1930–1973; divorced)
Erika Grzimek (1978–1987; his death)
ChildrenRochus (born 1931)
Michael (1934–1959)
Monika Karpel (born 1940, out of wedlock)
Thomas (1950–1980)
Cornelius Grzimek (born 1945, out of wedlock)

Bernhard Klemens Maria Grzimek (German pronunciation: [ˈɡʒɪmɛk]; 24 April 1909 – 13 March 1987) was a renowned German zoo director, zoologist, book author, editor, and animal conservationist in postwar West Germany.


Early years and education[edit]

Grzimek was born in Neisse (Nysa), Prussian Silesia. His father Paul Franz Constantin Grzimek was a lawyer and civil law notary and his mother was Margarete Margot (nee Wanke).

After studying veterinary medicine in 1928, first at Leipzig and later in Berlin, Grzimek received a doctorate in 1933.

He married Hildegard Prüfer on 17 May 1930 and had three sons: Rochus, Michael, and an adopted son, Thomas.

World War II and aftermath[edit]

During World War II he was a veterinarian in the Wehrmacht and worked for the Reichsernährungsministerium (Food Ministry of the 3rd Empire) in Berlin. In early 1945, the Gestapo raided Grzimek's Berlin apartment, because he had repeatedly supplied food to hidden Jews. Grzimek then fled from Berlin to Frankfurt, which was occupied by the U.S. Army. In April 1945 he was appointed police chief of Frankfurt by U.S. authorities, but he refused the job.

In late 1947, Grzimek was accused of membership in the NSDAP (the Nazi Party) by the U.S. military government, which he denied. He was then removed from office in the Frankfurt Zoo (see below), fined, and sent for denazification. On 23 March 1948, it was determined that he was innocent (Category 5; Exonerated). He was then reinstated at the Zoo by the U.S. government but his reputation was besmirched as there was a NSDAP entry as a candidate but not as a member. The Zoo Director of Munich, Heinz Heck, led a private smear and lawsuit campaign against him.[citation needed] Grzimek was acquitted with a fine of any wrongdoing in 1949. According to Nowak, Grzimek had tried to join the party out of fear, to save himself.[1]

Zoo director[edit]

Grzimek statue in the Frankfurt Zoo

Grzimek became director of the Frankfurt Zoological Garden on 1 May 1945. The zoo then in ruins and all but 20 animals killed, he prevented the permanent closure of the Frankfurt Zoo and the relocation of the "Center Zoo" to the suburbs. The Zoo reopened on 1 July 1945, after all bomb craters were filled and buildings temporarily restored. With festivals, dances and actors, Grzimek attracted the Frankfurt population and received the assent of the Provisional Government and the U.S. military to continue the Frankfurt Zoo.

Grzimek led the Frankfurt Zoo for 29 years, until his retirement on 30 April 1974. He made it into one of the largest zoological gardens in Germany.

At the same time he served as president of the Frankfurt Zoological Society for over forty years. The society - organized on similar principles as its London and New York counterparts - runs a number of wildlife conservation projects both in Germany and overseas; most well-known is its ongoing work in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania, East Africa.

Conservationism and other activities[edit]

In 1954 he founded the image agency Okapia, specialized in animals and nature. Today, the agency specializes in science and employs 650 photographers. The firm is led by Christian Bernhard Grzimek, the son of his son who died in the Serengeti.

Grzimek is most famous for the work he undertook for the conservation of the Serengeti. He spent several years studying the wildlife there along with his son Michael Grzimek, especially on areal observation and counts of large scale annual migrations. The documentary film Serengeti Shall Not Die was written and directed by Bernard and Michael Grzimek and won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1959.

In the same year Michael was killed in an air crash while flying the Dornier Do 27 due to a collision with a griffon vulture. Grzimek wrote a best-selling book, Serengeti Shall Not Die, which first appeared in German in 1959 and later in 20 other languages. It appealed enormously to the public and was key in driving the creation of the Serengeti National Park.

He prophesied in his book:

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.

In 1975 he co-founded the League for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) and bought ten acres of forest areas and wetlands in the Steiger forest near Michelau im Steigerwald which he left to itself.

In 1978, he married his son's widow, Erika. He subsequently adopted his grandsons as sons.

The plaque for Bernhard Grzimek in Nysa

End of life[edit]

The Tomb of Michael and Bernhard Grzimek on the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Grzimek died in Frankfurt am Main in 1987, falling asleep while watching a circus performance with a group of children. His ashes were later transferred to Tanzania and buried next to his son Michael at the Ngorongoro Crater. In his lifetime, he had wished that after his death, his body would be laid out on the African plains to be eaten by scavengers.[1]


Grzimek was the editor-in-chief of (and author of a number of articles in) a massive and monumental encyclopedia of animal life. After publication in Germany in 1968, Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia was translated into English and published in 1975 in 13 volumes (covering lower life forms, insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibia, reptiles, birds and mammals) plus three additional volumes on Ecology, Ethology and Evolution. The 1975 work was issued in both hardback and less expensive paperback editions and became a standard reference work. After Grzimek's death, the volumes on mammals were revised, and republished in both German and then in English. In 2004, the entire encyclopedia was revised and published in a new and expanded edition with Michael Hutchins as the new editor in chief. All the versions of the encyclopedia are marked by clear and forceful prose, extensive use of illustrations (both drawings and color plates), and a deep love and concern for animal conservation.

Of national importance were his work as co-editor (together with Austrian Nobel-prize winner Konrad Lorenz)[2] of the then-largest popular magazine on animals and wildlife in German language, Das Tier (German for "The Animal") and of a very popular television series on wildlife. He also authored a large number of popular books based on his countless experiences with animals which he raised since his student days, managed as zoo director, and encountered in the wild during many research trips.

Awards and honors[edit]



  • 1956 - Kein Platz für wilde Tiere (in German)
  • 1959 - Serengeti shall not die (Original German title: Serengeti darf nicht sterben) (in German)
  • 1956 - 1980 - Ein Platz für Tiere (German TV series) (in German)


  • 1941 - Wir Tiere sind ja gar nicht so! Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung (in German)
  • 1943 - Wolf Dschingis: Neue Erlebnisse, Erkenntnisse und Versuche mit Tieren, Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung (in German)
  • 1951 - Affen im Haus und andere Tierberichte, Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung (in German)
  • 1952 - Flug ins Schimpansenland: Reise durch ein Stück Afrika von heute, Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung (in German)
  • 1956 - 20 Tiere und ein Mensch (in German)
  • 1956 - Thulo aus Frankfurt - Rund um die Giraffe, Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung (in German)
  • 1959 - Serengeti darf nicht sterben (über die Arbeit am Film) (in German)
  • 1960 - Kein Platz für wilde Tiere (in German)
  • 1961 - Unsere Brüder mit den Krallen (in German)
  • 1963 - Wir lebten mit den Baule. Flug ins Schimpansenland (in German)
  • 1965 - Wildes Tier, weißer Mann (in German)
  • 1968 - Grzimeks Tierleben, 16 vol. (in German)
  • 1969 - Grzimek unter Afrikas Tieren: Erlebnisse, Beobachtungen, Forschungsergebnisse (in German)
  • 1974 - Auf den Mensch gekommen: Erfahrungen mit Leuten (in German)
  • 1974 - Vom Grizzlybär zur Brillenschlange: Ein Naturschützer berichtet aus vier Erdteilen, Kindler (in German)
  • 1974 - Einsatz für Afrika: Neue Erlebnisse mit Wildtieren, Kindler (in German)
  • 1974 - Tiere, mein Leben: Erlebnisse und Forschungen aus fünf Jahrzehnten, Harnack (in German)
  • 1975 - Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 13 vol., Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York [translation of 1968 work]
  • 1977 - Und immer wieder Pferde. Kindler (in German)
  • 1988 - Grzimeks Enzyklopädie der Säugetiere, Kindler Verlag, München.
  • 1990 - Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, 5 vol., McGraw-Hill, New York, ISBN 0-07-909508-9 [translation of 1988 work]
  • 2004 - Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2nd. Ed., 17 vol., Thomson-Gale, Detroit, ISBN 0-7876-5362-4 [revision of 1975 work]


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Franziska Torma: Eine Naturschutzkampagne in der Ära Adenauer. Bernhard Grzimeks Afrikafilme in den Medien der 50er Jahre. Martin Meidenbauer Verlag, München 2004, ISBN 3-89975-034-9 (in German) (Media studies; on his films on African wildlife)
  • Gerhard Grzimek, Rupprecht Grzimek: "Die Familie Grzimek aus Oberglogau in Oberschlesien", in: Deutsches Familienarchiv, Band X, Verlag Degener & Co., Neustadt (Aisch) 1958. 4., erweiterte und überarbeitete Ausgabe, Herder-Institut, Reutlingen 2000. (in German) (genealogy)


In 2004 and 2008 public German TV broadcast 2 documentaries on Grzimek, and in 2015 an almost 3 hour long biopic featuring Ulrich Tukur as Bernhard Grzimek.[citation needed]


  • Thomas Weidenbach: Bernhard Grzimek – Ein Leben für die Tiere. ZDF 2004; ca. 54 Minuten [9]
  • Erika Kimmel, Bernd Isecke: Legenden – Bernhard Grzimek. ARD 2008; 45 Minuten [10]


External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Nowak, Eugeniusz (2000). "Erinnerungen an Ornithologen, die ich kannte (2. Teil)". Journal für Ornithologie (in German). 141 (4): 461–500. doi:10.1007/BF01651575. ISSN 0021-8375.
  2. ^ "Ein Leben für die Tiere" (PDF). Zoologische Gesellschaft Frankfurt. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Claudia Sewig 2009, p. 209 (German)
  4. ^ Sewig 2009, p. 243
  5. ^ Sewig 2009, p. 260 ff.
  6. ^ a b c Sewig 2009, p. 269
  7. ^ Scherpner 1983, p. 155 and 165: Das während der Bauphase ab 1972 noch als 24-Stunden-Haus bezeichnete Tierhaus wurde durch Magistratsbeschluss im September 1978 als Grzimek-Haus eingeweiht.
  8. ^ Sewig 2009, p. 187
  9. ^ „Ein Leben für die Tiere“: ZDF-Dokumentation über Grzimek
  10. ^ Legenden – Bernhard Grzimek
  11. ^ Grzimek - Der Film
  12. ^ TV-Film „Grzimek“: Tiere, Frauen, Dramen Der Spiegel