Bernhard Grzimek

Bernhard Grzimek
Born Bernhard Klemens Maria Hoffbauer Pius Grzimek
(1909-04-24)24 April 1909
Neisse, Prussian Silesia, German Empire (today Poland)
Died 13 March 1987(1987-03-13) (aged 77)
Frankfurt, West-Germany
Occupation television host, filmmaker, author, zoo director, veterinarian, businessman
Years active 1954–1987
Spouse(s) Hildegard Prüfer (1930–1973; divorced)
* Rochus (born 1931)
* Michael (1934–1959)
* Thomas (1950–1980) (suicide)
Erika Grzimek (1978–1987; his death)
* Stephan Michael (born 1956, adopted)
* Christian Bernhard (born 1959, adopted)
Illegitimate children:
* Monika Karpel (born 1940)
* Cornelius Grzimek (born 1945)

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

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

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 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) and had participated in the Resistance War. He was then reinstated at the Zoo by the U.S. government but his reputation was besmirched. The Zoo Director of Munich, Heinz Heck, led a private smear and lawsuit campaign against him. Grzimek was acquitted of any wrongdoing in 1949.

Zoo director

Grzimekstatue 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

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.

The plaque for Bernhard Grzimek in Nysa

End of life

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.


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)[1] 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





See also

Further reading


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.



External links


  1. "Ein Leben für die Tiere" (PDF). Zoologische Gesellschaft Frankfurt. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  2. 1 2 Claudia Sewig 2009, p. 209 (German)
  3. Sewig 2009, p. 243
  4. Sewig 2009, p. 260 ff.
  5. 1 2 3 Sewig 2009, p. 269
  6. 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.
  7. Sewig 2009, p. 187
  8. „Ein Leben für die Tiere“: ZDF-Dokumentation über Grzimek
  9. Legenden – Bernhard Grzimek
  10. Grzimek - Der Film
  11. TV-Film „Grzimek“: Tiere, Frauen, Dramen Der Spiegel

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