Zebra stripes are synonymous with adventure

Zebra stripes are synonymous with adventure

Image source: imcdb.org

Before the global pandemic, travel agencies organized many adventure tours in Africa and tourists were often welcomed by zebra striped Land Rovers.

The zebra stripes are so characteristic of the car and of adventuring that in 2015, one of the members of the Hong Kong Land Rovers Club travelled the entire Silk Road with such a vehicle to Samarkand, Uzbekistan…

…while others discovered the Atlas Mountains of Morocco with one.

Image source: classiclandrovergathering.com

But where did the zebra stripes come from?

The story started when 48 years-old German zoologist Bernhard Grzimek and his 23 years-old son Michael arrived to Nairobi in January 1958 in their single engine airplane. Their goal was to count the animals in the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania. Because they thought the terrain and job required zebra stripes, not only the plane but the car was painted this way as well.

(from left) Bernhard Grzimek, his son Michael and his school friend Hermann Gimbel in the Serengeti in 1958
Image source: geo.de

The car was a 1958 Land Rover 107” Series I Station Wagon with which sometimes they drove to the boma, the Masai round villages, and sat in the huts of Masai friends. Often, they set up the tripod for the camera on top of the Land Rover and they even lifted off the back door to be able to film the movements of animals while driving by.

Image source: imcdb.org

The father and son duo not only created statistics, but also shot a movie called „Serengeti darf nicht sterben”, distributed in the US under the title „Serengeti”. The film was shown in more than 60 countries and was the first German film to receive an Oscar.

Image source: imcdb.org

Mapping the wildlife of the Serengeti was a daunting task, at first the two zoologists only saw one mass of animals roaming the plains of Serengeti. But they worked out ways to document their results, divided the vast land into „districts’, sections they’ve already flown by at a constant height. They spent three hours in the air every day.

Finally, they proudly announced the result: 366,980 large animals lived in the Serengeti; including 99,481 wildebeest, 57,199 zebras and 55 rhinos.

Image source: imcdb.org

The story has no happy ending

On the morning of January 11, 1959, Michael started to take aerial photos again: He was flying in the direction of the Serengeti. The plane had flown at a height of 200 meters (666 feet) when a griffon vulture hit the right wing and damaged the control cables. The plane crashed straight into the ground.

Image source: imcdb.org

Bernhard Grzimek had conjured up a new image of Africa for the world: “Africa” was no longer a ghostly jungle, but a wide, light dream landscape; a fragile Eden with acacias that one looked at wistfully like one’s own life story.

Peter Faidt

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