A bit of history – origin of the name
Take a single-engine post-war airplane and paint it with zebra-stripes. Fill it with all the possessions you think you’ll need for a few years in Eastern Africa, and try to imagine taking off in Frankfurt and flying 6,000 miles to Tanzania in 1957.
When a German-made Dornier aircraft landed in the Serengeti over 60 years ago, two courageous men climbed out of the cockpit – Bernhard Grzimek and his 24-year-old son, Michael. Armed with little more than stubborn determination and an honourable quest, this father–son duo carried out work that resulted in the extension of the park boundary, which protects the great wildebeest migration to this day.
Image credit: Karl Kossler, CC BY-SA 3.0
Dr Bernhard Grzimek was Director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society and had become fascinated with Africa’s wildlife during one of his expeditions around the continent. He was convinced that the migration of wildebeest ranged far beyond the established boundaries of the Serengeti National Park. The moving herd, he reckoned, entered into adjacent country, which was neither protected nor individually owned. Grzimek felt an increasing time pressure to solve the mystery of the migratory path in order to protect the natural phenomenon from the encroachment of Tanzania’s spiking population.
Having touched down in the Serengeti, father and son set about counting and tracking the wildebeest herds. They found it necessary to create markers amongst the herd in order to carry out a scientific count, and discovered that the zebras accompanying the wildebeest were perfectly suited for this. By capturing 50 zebra stallions, painting their hair yellow, and then releasing the herbivores back into the herds, the Grzimek duo were able to observe the movement of these bright yellow zebras from the skies, once they had taken off in their ‘zebra plane’.
And this is how they spent two years establishing the migration routes and providing an invaluable baseline for future research. Many believe Dr Grzimek had more effect on wildlife conservation in Africa than any other individual. So determined were Bernard and Michael to save the Serengeti and its wildlife, they bought a plane and went on another intrepid journey to Africa. Sadly, Michael never returned home.
Image credit: Bonio, CC BY-SA 3.0
Michael died when his plane collided with a vulture in 1959. If you are ever in the Ngorongoro Crater Reserve, take the road that skirts the Crater for one of the most spectacular views in the world. Along this road, you’ll find a plaque that reads, ‘MICHAEL GRZIMEK 12.4.1934 – 10.1.1959. He gave all he possessed for the wild animals in Africa, including his life’.
Now the question is, where does Yellow Zebra Safaris come in?