Professor Grzimek went to the Serengeti with his son Michael in the 1950s to conduct aerial surveys of animals in the wild. His book about their experience in the Serengeti, "Serengeti Shall Not Die," was made into a movie, and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. He introduced the world to the great nature of Africa.
When Markus was small, he watched a TV program on wild animals by Professor Grzimek. After Professor Borner returned from Sumatra, he joined the Frankfurt Zoological Society and worked under Grzimek. Professor Borner said, "I could not and still cannot believe my good fortune."
Professor Grzimek promised the Government of Tanzania that he would help to make Rubondo Island, which is located in Tanzania southwest of Lake Victoria, into a national park. Professor Grzimek chose Professor Borner as his assistant.
In 1977, Professor Borner was dispatched to Tanzania as a Frankfurt Zoological Society project manager. He moved there with his family. This was his first chance to live and work in Africa.
Professor Borner was in charge of surveys on animal ecology, training for national park rangers, building facilities and housing for rangers, and other preparation for the establishment of the national park.
Rubondo Island at that time was isolated in a remote region. Living in the area was difficult. They only saw their coworkers, rangers, and their families. No one else visited them.
They did not have electricity or gas, and it took an entire day to reach the nearest town. They were only able to shop once every two months.
Meanwhile, the front of their homes on Rubondo Island was a beach with palm trees. They could hear hippopotamuses snorting all night long, and see beautiful birds and butterflies during the day. It was a wonderful place in the midst of beautiful nature.
Professor Borner was once attacked by a chimpanzee. He was photographing them and accidentally made eye contact with one. Feeling threatened, it suddenly attacked him.
After he escaped from the chimpanzee, Professor Borner reconsidered what he did and thought, "It was my mistake. Unlike humans, making eye contact is aggressive behavior among wild animals."
When we have trouble with animals, we are usually the cause. They are not playmates, but wild animals. We need to understand that and treat them with respect. Professor Borner learned a valuable lesson.
A vast expanse of plain, Serengeti
In 1983, after working on Rubondo Island for six years, Professor Borner moved to Seronera, which is located in the middle of Serengeti National Park, to work on its expansion and development. This was the beginning of his 40-year life in the Serengeti.
Serengeti National Park is located in northern Tanzania. Covering 14,760km2, it is one of the largest national parks in Africa with an area larger than Northern Ireland, and more than one third the size of Professor Borner's home country, Switzerland.
The term "Serengeti" in Maasai means "vast plain." As its name implies, most of the Serengeti is an expansive plane that is home to approx. 3,000,000 wild animals, including 1,500,000 gnus.
From ancient times, animals have lived there. Designated a national park and made famous to the world through the book, "Serengeti Shall Not Die," by Professor Grzimek, it has become a popular tourist attraction. This wild kingdom in Tanzania was also registered as a World Heritage Site in 1981, two years before Professor Borner arrived to live and work there.
At that time, Tanzania had just resolved a conflict with its neighbor, Uganda. Violent crime was a regular occurrence and public security was very poor. In addition, its border with Kenya was closed, which damaged tourism. Because of this, Serengeti National Park was running low on funding for the maintenance of the facility and equipment. It was under these severe conditions that Professor Borner started his work.
The biggest problem was poaching.
There are two types of poaching. One was killing wild zebras and gnus by poor people in the surrounding areas for food. This was not such a big problem because the population of zebras and gnus was substantial.
The other was the killing of rhinoceroses for their horns and elephants for their ivory, both valuable items sought by extensive criminal organizations. Poaching for ivory reduced the population of elephants at an animal sanctuary in southern Tanzania from 100,000 to 30,000 within a few years.
Professor Borner first established a foundation at the Frankfurt Zoological Society to raise money for Serengeti National Park. He used this money to ensure that park rangers were paid regularly and had the uniforms, vehicles, and radios they needed to protect the wildlife. Through his efforts, he gradually improved the management of the park.
The Serengeti Rhino Repatriation Project (SRRP)
Rare animals like rhinoceroses can disappear quickly through poaching. A group of poachers killed most of the black rhinos in the Serengeti, leaving only two females alive. Professor Borner transported a male from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area located 120km from Serengeti. However, it was hard to increase the number of black rhinos with only three to start with.
Professor Borner and his staff decided to bring about 30 black rhinos from South Africa. There were very strict regulations for animal conservation, regulations such as the requirement to use exactly the same species. Overcoming many difficulties over four years, they were finally able to bring them to the Serengeti. When the plane carrying the black rhinos arrived at the park, Professor Borner was moved to tears.
Through their tremendous effort, the number of black rhinos in the Serengeti has grown to about 120. However, it is not the end because they will decrease quickly without care.
In fact, after appearing to cease for a time, poaching has once again become a serious issue. The number of elephants and rhinos being killed has increased. The demand for elephant ivory and rhino horns in Asia is great; and the national parks are too large for rangers to stop all poaching.
People around the world need to stop purchasing elephant ivory and rhino horns, which Professor Borner believes will solve this problem. If there is no market for these items, the killing of elephants and rhinos to supply them will stop.
"It is we that can change this situation, not the park rangers," said Professor Borner.