Frankfurt Zoological Society

The Frankfurt Zoological Society was founded 160 years ago. For 60 years we have been protecting the wild. The Frankfurt Field Notes tell the extraordinary and surprising stories of our daily conservation work.

Frankfurt Field Notes

Rather together

1858 • • • 1989 • • • 2018

In 1989 the rhinoceros couple Tsororo and Kalusho came from Zimbabwe to Frankfurt Zoo. Jutta W. Thomasius recalls the arrival of the two in the book "Zoo Stories".

"Tsororo and Kalusho arrived in huge wooden boxes. For months the two remained invisible to the public, distributed in separate enclosures. With great care the animals were accustomed to each other. When the wooden divider fell and it became possible to "sniff at each other" through bars, hope blossomed that they would adjust quickly. But the opposite happened. Kalusho and Tsororo chased each other whenever they got the opportunity."

Although the two had a difficult start, they sired three daughters, all of whom were brought back to Africa to strengthen the gene pool of wild animals. Her eldest daughter Akura travelled to South Africa in 1996. It was the first zoo-born black rhino in the world that could be reintroduced to the wild, more precisely to the Marakele National Park. There she gave birth to her first daughter in August 2003.

Black rhinoceroses are one of the most endangered species. To preserve the species, we support rhino conservation and monitoring projects in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Storm over Brandenburg

1858 • • • 2001 • • • 2018

31st of May 1999, pitch-black thunderclouds blanketed the skies. No doubt about it: A summer storm was coming. We were in Brandenburg working on a former Russian military training area. Here nature should be left to itself. As I sat in the car studying maps and aerial views, what happened suddenly can hardly be described: As the first branches broke, I tried to escape, but the fallen trees quickly made the effort futile. Fierce storm winds swept over my colleagues and I, centennial trunks broke like matches and were whirled weightlessly through the air. In seconds, several hectares of forest lay on the ground around us. Whole ramparts of trees and branches piled up metres high around our car.

Miraculously we remained unharmed and climbed out of the wedged vehicle. In just a few minutes, the storm had caused a natural development of its own.

Christof Schenck is the Executive Director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society. As a passionate biologist, he regularly exchanges his desk for rubber boots and binoculars. Former military training areas, like the one in Brandenburg are ideal development areas for wilderness.

My holy offspring

1858 • • • 2004 • • • 2018

In August 2004, orangutan lady Santi brought her newborn daughter to the FZS orangutan reintroduction station in the Indonesian jungle. Just a year earlier, Santi was one of the first orangutans to be released by us. This made her daughter the first orangutan baby born in the wild in our project area!

We were so proud of the offspring born in freedom that we named the little girl Suci - meaning 'holy' in Indonesian.

Dr. Peter Pratje has led our conservation program and the Sumatran Jungle School for orangutans since 1998. In the meantime, more than 180 orangutans have been released into the wild through our conservation project.

Rhinos without take-off clearance

1858 • • • 2003 • • • 2018

May 27 2003 was one of the most exciting days of my life: After decades, black rhinos would return to North Luangwa in Zambia! But, despite years of planning, nothing went according to plan. The chartered cargo plane, which was to deliver the rhinos from South Africa, got stuck in Angola on the big day. This postponed the entire transport and with it the planned reception ceremony. From the Zambian minister to the German ambassador to the food supplier - everyone involved in the event had to make new arrangements on very short notice.

One day later it finally happened. When the plane's wheels dug into the short and bumpy runway, our stomachs again flipped from anxiety. But, a few seconds later the machine came to a stop and with it the precious cargo. The first black rhinos were back in Zambia. The VIP’s were so delighted to be part of the rhino return, that no one missed out on the ceremony – despite the delay.

Elsabe van der Westhuizen worked for us in Zambia from 1997 to 2007. Today, together with her husband Hugo, she heads the FZS project in Zimbabwe. Since 2003 further rhinos have been settled in North Luangwa. Meanwhile the population is stabilizing and we are registering the first births in the wild.

Steffen does not hallucinate

1858 • • • 2011• • • 2018

In autumn 2011, I was on my way back from the steppe to Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. For one last night we camped in the wilderness. When I crawled out of my tent very early the next morning, I saw a dog's muzzle looking out from behind the tent. Was I still dreaming? I bent over a bit and there was a four-legged friend standing in the middle of the camp! However, this friend was no dog. It was a full-grown wolf exploring our camp site in complete peace of mind. He was neither shy nor in a hurry. He just trotted between the tents and let my colleague take his picture. Finally, he disappeared into the wilderness, leaving us a parting gift of a fresh pile of dung. A great experience, I had never met a wild wolf before.

Steffen Zuther is a geoecologist and our project manager in Kazakhstan. He is researching the Saiga antelopes, which have experienced strong population fluctuations in recent years.

Suitable repositories for bears, wolves and wild boars

1858 • • • 1858 • • • 2018

In the year 1858, a handful of Frankfurt citizens came together with the idea to create a place where people could spend time outside and learn about nature. A park was needed that would house animals according to their needs – in short: a zoo.

The society managed to find potent donors, the old established Frankfurt families Rothschild, Binding, Merton and Oppenheimer. Even today these names are ever-present in the city of Frankfurt.

When finally the Frankfurt police office had provided a clearance certificate to ”keep bears, wolves and wild boars in suitable repositories”, the zoo opened its gates on 8 August 1858, only five months after the Frankfurt Zoological Society had been founded. By the way: A yearly pass for one-person cost 5 gulden, for a family, 10 gulden.

Frankfurt Zoo and FZS share that historical origin and a close partnership. Today, the zoo is operated by the city of Frankfurt and Frankfurt Zoological Society has developed into an international nature conservation organisation with projects on four continents. Together we promote environmental education in Frankfurt Zoo.

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A fantastic journey

1858 • • • 2012 • • • 2018

As every year for the past 20 years, in September 2012 we were counting giant otters in Peru. Our mission that year was to find out why we saw less and less giant otters in the Los Amigos river outside Manu National Park each year. After two weeks of observing and searching in vain we returned to the office. We had seen zero otters and didn’t know why.

We analysed some new info as well as older data and pictures to solve this mystery. What we found was nothing short of a sensation: Diablo II, a giant otter which we had photographed as a juvenile otter in Los Amigos was found in another photo taken several years later in  Manu National Park’s Lake Sandoval! Until then we knew that giant otters travel up to 80 kilometres, but right before our eyes we had proof that Diablo II had travelled an astounding 290 kilometres! The distinctive white patches on his throat identified him without a doubt. His is the longest journey ever documented for a giant otter!

Rob Williams worked as Head of our Peru Programme for many years. In Peru we have been active in protecting biodiversity for almost 30 years.

Banking in Serengeti

1858 • • • 2011 • • • 2018

In May 2011 I became head of finance for FZS’s Africa Programme, location of office: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. But before I could start work, I had to deal with a rather special problem my bank came up with: They needed an orderly verification of my new address in Serengeti. That proved to be tricky, because here we don’t have street names or numbers let alone postcodes. Could I provide an electricity bill? I could not, because solar panels and a generator produce my electricity. A water bill? Afraid not, because the rains and a water tank provide me with all the water I need. Phone bill? Sorry, no can do, there are no landlines in Serengeti and mobile phones only worked with prepaid cards these days! In the end, a letter from FZS HQ in Frankfurt was enough to convince my bank, that I indeed was now living in the middle of Serengeti National Park.

Donald Boag was our Head of Finance Africa and worked part-time as Santa Claus for the children of Seronera. In Tanzania, we provide critical support and know-how for resource protection, monitoring, and park management.

The 3 day lunchbreak

1858 • • • 2005 • • • 2018

At the end of April a pride of lions killed a buffalo right outside our office in Seronera, in the middle of Serengeti. For three days they feasted on their prey just a few metres away from our desks. They guarded their buffalo with great determination. In a spectacular stunt on the office’s veranda they even killed a hyena that had been reckless enough to try and steal a little buffalo meat. There was blood and bits of hyena-remains everywhere. These three days with unrelenting growling and roaring, with hyena-bickering and buffalo-stench,  made it quite clear once again for who it is we are working for here in Serengeti.  We continue to do so with conviction, as we have for almost 70 years.

Professor Markus Borner was our Africa Director for more than 30 years. In Tanzania, we provide critical support and know-how for resource protection, monitoring, and park management.

The orangutan that survived a bullet storm

1858 • • • 2006 • • • 2018

It was November 2006 when we got the bad news: Leuser, a young orangutan male, was critically injured. Farmers had almost perforated him with bullets about 40 kilometres outside Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra. I immediately dispatched a team, they provided first aid and stabilized Leuser, and eventually they brought him to Jambi. Although most of the bullets could be removed during an operation lasting several hours, poor Leuser was irreversibly blinded by the attack. We had released him only two years earlier in Bukit Tigapuluh. He needed only very little training and was coping extraordinarily well on his own, but now he will have to stay in human care. We filed criminal charges and in April 2007 six people were found guilt.

Dr Peter Pratje heads our Sumatra Conservation Programme. Since 1998, his team reintroduced about 180 orangutans into the wild.

House cat

1858 • • • 2009 • • • 2018

One morning in 2009 I was shocked to discover leopard footprints in the kitchen of our house, located in the middle of North Luangwa National Park, Zambia. They zigzagged through the kitchen, into the living room, and up to our sofa which was entirely covered in leopard hair. A cushion was missing. I found it in our office next to the generator, fluff torn by claws. The spoor continued: from the office the sneaky leopard made its way to our bedroom and even stole one of my pullovers from the wardrobe! I found the chewed-up corpus delicti in front of the house. By then, of course, the thief was long gone.

Claire Lewis and her husband Ed Sayer have been our programme managers in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia, since 2007. In North Luangwa we are conserving Zambia's only population of black rhinos.