The SFAR in the service of scientific research
Excerpt from: Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, 1939 to 1970. Published in Zurich 1972
Between 1961 and 1964, the focus of the scientific activities of the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research was on the promotion of research into wild game. At that time, this was an area of research that threw up some unusually fascinating tasks, from the point of view of both specialisation and organisation. Research into wild game must quite clearly be regarded as applied research. The Bern forestry director and member of the Swiss Federal Council, Dewet Buri, made a parliamentary attempt to invite the Swiss Federal Council to support research into game in our country in 1951, in order to gain expert knowledge for the containment of damage caused to Swiss forests by the gnawing of these animals. In his justification, he estimated this damage to amount to an annual sum of six million Swiss Francs. The Federal Council took this request into account by recording the following article when it revised the Federal statute relating to the protection of prey and of birds: "The Federation supports the research into game animals living in the wild, and into their environment ". This gave research into wild game a legal basis in our country, and allowed the Federal Council to support wild game research financially as it saw fit. The Foundation for Alpine Research viewed this as an opportunity to develop Swiss wild game research in accordance with the principles of modern research management, and thus to provide a model for solutions to tasks presented in applied research. The proposal to create a management centre for wild game research provided strong support for both the political authorities and those experts who were engaged in research into wild game animals. One proposal worked out by the Foundation with regard to the organisation of Swiss wild game research provoked a serious disagreement: the traditional ideal of pure research under the banner of unrestricted freedom of research was set against the demands that research in a commercially-oriented society should produce an economic application in return for research funds. The main aim of the draft was to suggest the development of a co-ordination and organisation point for research involving game, and to bring together staff and material resources in order to improve the opportunities for the solution of research tasks. Particular weight was given to interdisciplinary collaboration between the various experts. The Foundation also proposed the creation of a scientific documentation point, and an information service for the research community. This research policy impetus was stopped at the first fence. On the political level, a Federal commission of experts to consult on the co-ordination and documentation of wild game animal was nominated. However, the proposal came up against opposition on the part of the experts. The scientists apparently feared that they would become dependent on a Federal office that took decisions on the basis of administrative factors. On the other hand, they did not have the conviction to break out of the typically Swiss isolation at their individual university-level institutions in order to take their own initiative towards collaboration. Even though the first attempt at the idea of a central point for Swiss wild game research was not successful, there were at least some advances in certain areas.
The Foundation’s efforts were directed towards three goals:
1. Support for young academics in the area of research into wild game;
2. Improvement in scientific documentation;
3. Popularisation of wild game biology with the public.
Initially, the Foundation attempted to awaken some understanding of wild game research in the general population, by drawing attention in various ways to the Alpine ibex. The Foundation began in 1961, with a celebration party in memory of the release 50 years ago of the first ibex in Switzerland. A list of names of all the pioneers who had worked to re-establish the ibex in the Swiss Alps was assembled, with the help of Prof. Willi Plattner from St. Gallen. All those who had supported the release of the ibex were presented with a large-scale poster showing a picture of an ibex, created by graphic artist Max Lenz.
The Foundation issued a bulletin under the title "Capra ibexL.", the scientific name of the Alpine ibex. This reported on the results of research into game in a generally understandable form.
In the summer of 1961, the Foundation invited Prof. Helmut Buechner from Washington State University to visit Switzerland. He familiarised students from the Zoological Institute with questions involving game biology, using lectures and field trips, and developed a programme of research into the ibex.
As a result of his proposals, the Zurich zoologist Marco Schnitter undertook investigations into the ibex. With support from the Bern forestry directorate, he worked primarily in the area around the Augstmatthorn, on the north shore of Lake Brienz. At the same time, the graphic artist and game photographer from Bern, Max Lenz, was starting a collection of pictures of the ibex and its environment. Images from this photographic archive were used to illustrate scientific and popular publications about the Alpine ibex. Some pictures were shown at EXPO 1964 in Lausanne, and at an exhibition put on by Marco Schnitter in the Zoological Museums in Zurich.
The young Zurich historian, Peter Ziegler, sought out old sources that provided information about the way in which the ibex had died out in Switzerland. He summarised the results of his investigations in map form in "Capra ibex L.". The classicist Peter Flury, who specialised in the translation of late Latin texts, translated the Latin description of the ibex provided by Conrad Gesner in his "Thierbuch" (“Book of Animals”) in 1583. He also took the opportunity to make a critical analysis of the text in order to correct various mistakes in the German translations of Gesner’s original text. The details in Gesner’s book of the publications about the ibex known at that time are of particular attraction to specialists with an interest in scientific history. A comparison between the original Latin version and the contemporary German translation is also fascinating.
The parasitologist Bernd Hörning, who was employed at the Institut Galli-Valerio in Lausanne at that time, drew up a valuable index of scientific works involving the Caucasian ibex, as well as a list of publications on the parasitology of the ibex. His excellent language skills also allowed him to present the Eastern European specialist literature under a German transcription of the title.
In conjunction with Georges Bouvier, Hörning published the results of parasitological investigations of the ibex in Switzerland. Otto Hegg determined which food plants were present in the faeces of the ibex. The aim of all of these minor works was to awaken the interest in ibex research, and to prepare the ground for special works with a wider range.
At the suggestion of Prof. Hans Burla, Director of the Zoological Museum at the University of Zurich, Bernhard Nievergelt wrote a dissertation on the ibex. He was supported by a research grant from the Foundation for Alpine Research during his field work and the subsequent evaluation period. The results of this outstandingly interesting investigation were published under the title "The Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex L.) within its environment" in 1966.
As one individual detail from the work of Nievergelt, we would simply mention the demonstration (with the aid of aerial photographs) of the winter entry of the ibex into Val Trupchun (Swiss National Park) and the Wetterhorn area.
In parallel with the research into the ibex, the Foundation also supported scientific work involving other types of Alpine animals. One of the first stimuli for this expansion of the subject area was presented by the epidemic-like blinding of chamois at the beginning of the 1960s. The illness sprang up in locations that were geographically far away from each other. The unique course of the epidemic caused experts to puzzle over its cause and its mode of transmission. A research contribution from the Foundation enabled Dr. Kurt Klingler, a lecturer at the Veterinary Medicine Faculty at the University of Bern, to gather observations on chamois blindness while the epidemic was spreading. The results of his investigations were later published (see Appendix). An example of anaesthetic equipment that was newly-developed at that time was made available to Kurt Klingler so that he could capture sick chamois for investigation and treatment. Klingler therefore acquired personal experience of the practical testing of this new aid in our country.
The Foundation also supported the dissertation work by Augustin Krämer on the "Social conduct and social organisation of a population of chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra L.) in the Alps". Krämer observed his group of chamois on the Augstmatthorn and in the neighbouring Justis-Tal; he was able to rely on the help of the Bern hunting inspector Hans Scbaerer and the gamekeepers responsible. Krämer’s PhD thesis was examined by Professor Burla and appeared in the Journal of Animal Psychology in 1969.
The pleasing upturn in Alpine wild game research indicated by the various theses and dissertations called for an exchange of experience on the international level. Travel grants from the Foundation enabled young wild game researchers to build relationships with foreign colleagues within the framework of specialist conferences. In addition, the Foundation also engaged the Czech game researcher Anton Bubenik to work in Switzerland for several years. This was at the suggestion of Professor Leibundgut from the Institute for Forestry Development at the ETH in Zurich. The fame of this foreign guest as a successful promoter of wild game research went before him in international hunting circles; furthermore, he was also regarded as thoroughly well-versed in the specialist literature from western and eastern Europe on wild game biology and hunting science. As a very individual researcher with a strongly charismatic personality and lively scientific imagination, Bubenik provided many stimuli during his time in Switzerland, but also frequently called up opposition to the plan in highly passionate terms. In lectures and discussions, he provided many an inspiration to wild game research in Switzerland. Above all, Bubenik addressed himself to investigations into the social conduct of those animals that bear antlers. Apart from works about stags and deer, he also conducted observations of Canadian elk and caribou.
We should also mention the notes published by Hein Rutz in 1965, on fauns in Axel-Heiberg Land.
All in all, the above is an experience of the pleasing development of a breadth in Swiss wild game research, as shown by the index of works involving the knowledge of wild game and zoology that have been supported in some way by the Foundation.
As well as providing support for field work and the promotion of new talent, the Foundation is also attempting to build the documentation about the scientific writings in the field of game research up, step by step. The first works are those lists of publications on the Caucasian ibex and the parasitology of the ibex compiled by Bernd Hörning, already mentioned above. Later, we granted a bursary for the re-printing of an overview paper on game deer nutrition by Paul Juon (Institute for Forestry Development at the ETH in Zurich). As a result of a questionnaire amongst experts and scientific institutions, the Foundation also compiled an index of the works published in Switzerland on knowledge about wild game. This list was later continued by the Federal Hunting Inspectorate.