Nature and the Environment
SFAR in the service of scientific research
Excerpt from: Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, 1939 to 1970. Published in Zurich in 1972
The Foundation for Alpine Research became a member of the international organisation for the conservation of nature (UICN) in 1961. By taking this step, the organisation laid down its desire to collaborate to the best of its abilities in the various tasks associated with nature conservation and environmental protection. There was no shortage of opportunity. In 1965, the Aletsch Reserve advised the responsible authorities of some causes for concern. The founders of the Reserve had set up the Aletschwald as a totally-protected wooded area, valuable for forestry and plant sociology. In order to protect the pasture from damage by large and small animals, the reserve was fenced, and constant supervision was arranged. Over the course of several years, however, it became clear that, although it had been possible to keep the grazing livestock out of the reserve, the widespread damage caused by gnawing in the Aletschwald was actually caused by the native wild game animals. As a result, a plant sociology investigation of the Aletsch reserve was arranged, in order produce scientific support for the future management of the reserve. This task was taken on by Jean-Louis Richard from the University of Neuenburg; the Foundation for Alpine Research contributed to the printing costs for the vegetation map with commentary prepared by Mr Richard. The Foundation also provided support for the printing of work by Fritz Fischer about the Aletschwald.
In 1964, the World Wildlife Fund organisation (WWF) sought a closer collaboration with the Foundation for Alpine Research in the area of the conservation of nature and wild game. During personal discussions, the WWF officer stressed the significance of basic zoological research for the preparation of projects to protect threatened animal species. The Foundation decided to direct its wild game research programme towards the acquisition of support for an active wild game research policy. In order to campaign publicly on behalf of nature conservation, the Foundation lent its support in 1965 to the Zoological Museum at the University of Zurich for the development of an exhibition on the Alpine ibex, the theme of which was worked out by Marco Schnitter. Similarly, the Foundation also provided support for Walter Huber, Director of the Natural History Museum in Bern, in his preparations for an exhibition for the International Hunting Convention in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia in 1967.
In time, a successful collaborative effort developed between the Foundation and the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research, the WWF and various other organisations working in the field of nature conservation and environmental protection. The Simien Project in Ethiopia was one particularly worthwhile example of this co-operation.
As described in the section on Wild Game Research, Bernhard Nievergelt completed his dissertation on the Alpine ibex in 1966. As a representative of the Foundation for Alpine Research, he participated in the meeting of members of the UICN held in Lucerne. There, he learned from an Ethiopian delegate that a residual herd of Ethiopian ibex still existed in the Simien mountains, which had been subject to hardly any research up to then. With the agreement of the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, we made it possible for Bernhard Nievergelt to mount a reconnaissance expedition into the Simien mountains, in preparation for a major programme of research into the Ethiopian ibex. The reconnaissance report was very encouraging; Nievergelt submitted an application to the Swiss National Fund for finance for a one-year tour. The project was accepted and the WWF contributed a substantial amount towards the cost of the field work. Even before the second research trip, Nievergelt had suggested taking steps to create an Ethiopian National Park in the area around the Simien Mountains. He backed up his proposal with outstanding photographic material, which prompted the Foundation to support the idea further (see Mountains of the World, Vol. XVII, 1968/69: Simien, a threatened landscape in Ethiopia).
In the winter of 1968, the Federal Hunting Inspector, Carl Desax, travelled to Ethiopia on our behalf, by agreement with Mr Tschudi, a member of the Federal Council. The intention was for him to be informed on site by Nievergelt about the potential for the founding of a National Park or wild game reserve. Later, the WWF took up the idea of the establishment of a nature conservation area, and drove the necessary negotiations forwards on an international level. According to the press reports, Emperor Haile Selassie declared the area around the Simien mountains to be an Ethiopian National Park in 1970.
As well as this international nature conservation project, the Foundation also made other, more modest efforts in the service of nature conservation and environmental protection. An article by H.P. Häfeli about the Alpine salamander, published in Mountains of the World (Vol. XVII, 1968/69) aimed to raise consciousness of the protection of native amphibians, even amongst mountain climbers.
From 1965 to 1970, Fritz Hans Schwarzenbacb strove to promote the conservation of plants in the Davos area, with the co-operation of volunteers from every section of society. A wide-ranging investigation had shown that tourists repeatedly hunted out the same two dozen types of mountain flower. Questionnaires were used to obtain information about the reasons for their preference for these flowers. The knowledge gained from these questionnaires was used in order to employ factual arguments to convince plant thieves of the need to protect mountain blooms from illegal plucking. As an additional weapon in the battle against plant theft, the auxiliary patrols were provided with printed instructions on how to counter the excuses favoured by plant pilferers. These efforts were initially directed towards local needs, but very quickly gained an unexpectedly wide effect. Slide talks at Federal instruction courses for auxiliary patrols in Graubünden, in SAC sections and at spa resorts, numerous short broadcasts on radio and television produced a satisfying echo. In association with the Graubünden working group for pathways, notices giving advice about the protection of plants were attached to footpath signs in the Davos area at first, and later in other areas of the Canton of Graubünden.
A plant protection area extending to 15 square kilometres was later created in connection with the newly-opened Pischa-Bahn in the Flüelatal, on the initiative of Nic Kindschi. In addition, the practical experiences of the auxiliary patrols were largely taken into account when the Graubünden plant protection law was revised in 1970.
This review demonstrates that, over the years, the original mountaineering orientation of the Foundation has increasingly moved via support for Alpine research towards nature conservation and environmental protection. Support has been provided for research projects relating to Alpine animal species, and efforts have been made to convey suitable topics from the nature conservation area to the general public.