A life for natureHeinz Sielmann (1917 – 2006)
"I am fortunate to be able to look back on a long life in nature. The past few years have shown me how important it is to limit our attitude of excess towards our environment. Only then will future generations have the chance of a future worth living."
Heinz Sielmann was born on 2 June 1917 in Rheydt/Mönchengladbach. His father was a chemist in a cable factory. In 1924, the family moved to Königsberg in East Prussia, where Dr Paul Sielmann opened an electrical and building materials shop. Heinz Sielmann developed an enthusiasm for lapwing, redshank, black-tailed godwit and snipe – lowland breeding wader birds – at a very young age.
His father regarded his son’s passion with concern because it affected his performance at school. His French Swiss-born mother, however, became his greatest ally. She gave her son a Mentor reflex camera as a gift, and he soon began to take impressive photos of the private lives of sandpiper birds.
In 1939, Heinz Sielmann was conscripted to the military. In 1945, he was taken as a prisoner of war in Cairo and later in London. Shortly after his return to Germany in 1947, Heinz Sielmann was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lower Saxony to film a documentary. The purpose of the film was to showcase the great damage caused by the war and its consequences to natural landscapes such as forests, seas and heathlands that had once been rich in species. Titled "Lied der Wildbahn" meaning "Song of the Wild", it was an appeal to come together to preserve the natural world.
In the years that followed, Heinz Sielmann rose to prominence, primarily through the German 1960s TV series "Expeditionen ins Tierreich" ("Expeditions into the Animal Kingdom"). Over the course of many episodes, the series showed endangered species from all over the world living within their habitats.
Heinz Sielmann published more than 30 books, including the illustrated autobiography "Mein Abenteuer Natur" ("My Nature Adventure"). Besides his TV programmes and books, he took advantage of intensive discussions and public appearances (for example as an honorary professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich) to draw attention to the cause of nature conservation.
Heinz Sielmann passed away on 6 October 2006 in Munich. His final resting place is at Gut Herbigshagen in Duderstadt, in the Franz von Assisi chapel.