Professor Dr. Markus Borner - A life for Africa's wild nature

With passion and pragmatism, Markus Borner shaped conservation in both Africa and the FZS for more than four decades. On 10 January 2020 he passed away.

From Dagmar Andres-Brümmer, 14th January 2020

For more than three decades the Serengeti was Markus Borner’s home. Without him and his inimitably positive way of inspiring people, bringing together the right people at the right time, the Serengeti would certainly not be what it is today: an icon among Africa's national parks.  


Markus himself, of course, wouldn’t want to hear this and he would rather emphasize that it was the efforts of his team and especially the Tanzanian National Parks Authority that protected the unique wilderness of the Serengeti and its wildlife. He was, however, the heart and soul of many of these efforts. Always a driving force when it came to mastering new challenges, finding new solutions and new ways. Markus met everyone respectfully and at eye level and was always true to himself. This earned him the highest respect, in Tanzania and far beyond.

When Markus Borner and his young family moved into the small house in the Serengeti National Park in 1983, he probably never thought that it would become such a nucleus of nature conservation, that renowned scientists, Hollywood actors and political decision-makers would once sit on his humble veranda, enjoying their gin and tonic, listening to him and appreciating his opinion. With his Swiss charm, his infectious laughter and his thoroughly honest optimism, he showed us again and again that humans need wilderness, that we must protect what is still there. And that it can be done.

Despite the rapid decline of biological diversity, the disappearance of forests, savannahs or coral reefs, the serious loss of species - Markus never doubted that protecting wilderness is the only right way. The way to preserve the future of mankind. 


Markus’ influence was not, however, restricted to the Serengeti. Together with many partners on the ground he also influenced conservation in other regions and during difficult times. As FZS Africa Director he decided to start a project for the protection of mountain gorillas in the DR Congo, despite ongoing civil unrest. In Zambia, Markus initiated the reintroduction of black rhinos to North Luangwa, and in the Ethiopian highlands, he oversaw the establishment of an FZS project for the protection of the Bale mountains. From Ethiopia to Zimbawe, Markus has chosen the right allies and brought people into his teams who, like him, were passionate and pragmatic about conservation. 

Markus Borner In the future the  greatness of a  Nation will not be judged by its advance in technology or by its achievements  in architecture, art  or sports, but by  the amount of  nature and  biodiversity that it  can hand over to  the next  generation. Markus Borner

In 2012 Markus retired after four decades in the service of the Frankfurt Zoological Society. But the love for Africa and its wild animals does not stop with retirement. Markus has always been deeply convinced that the future lies in Africa's young generation. The University of Glasgow awarded Markus Borner, who held a PhD in biology, an honorary professorship, and until very recently, he shared his insights and coached young conservation experts from various African countries in the Karimjee Conservation Scholars Program. He was also able to share his experience as an adjunct professor at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania.


Markus Borner was awarded the Bruno H Schubert Prize in 1994, was a finalist for the Indianapolis Prize in 2012 and received the prestigious Blue Planet Prize from the Asahi Glass Foundation in 2016, which is considered the Nobel Prize of conservation awards.

His vision of a world that will value its nature and realize that wilderness is its true future capital has shaped him throughout his life. Uncompromising, sincere and clear in his convictions, Markus has inspired and motivated many of us. When species disappear, unique forests have to make way for dams or roads, and when we doubt whether we can still protect nature, those are the times when we will think of Markus’ loud and infectious laugh: Giving up is not an option.  

2012 Markus Borner was Indianapolis Prize Finalist. The Indianapolis Prize is awarded to individuals for extraordinary contributions to conservation efforts. This film was produced as part of the award ceremony.

FZS Projects in Africa