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Northern Sporades – how it all began

During a birding excursion to the English Gardens of Munich, in 1947 I had the privilege to meet Dr. Philipp Lehrs. I was just ten years old, thrilled by the opportunity to learn „live“ more about animals.. Dr. Lehrs was a distinguished, free-working herpetologist. He recognized my keen interest and over several years introduced me to a host of knowledge. He also made available books from his exquisite library which I inherited all when Philipp Lehrs died in 1956.

Among these herpetological publications was the separatum aus den Sitzungsberichten der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, „Herpetologia aegaea“ (1953) by Otto von Wettstein of Vienna, dedicated by a personal note to his dear friend Lehrs. Searching at once through the pages I discovered that the herpeto - (as much as the other) fauna on most islands of the Northern Sporades had never been investigated.

Quote from p.703, about Lacerta erhardii ruthveni: „ Diese Rasse bewohnt die Nördlichen Sporaden. Terra typica ist die Insel Kyra Panagia (=Pelagonisi).) Cyrén (1935) stellte sie auf Khiliodromia (=Chelidromia, Xilodromia), Psathura und Giura (=Joura) fest. Piperi, Gramura, die Inselgruppen von Xeronesi und Skantzura, wurden überhaupt noch nicht herpetologisch untersucht.“

And the key quote, from p.757; „Die Skyros umgebenden kleinen Inseln, etwa 11 an der Zahl, und die Leuchtturminsel Präsuda zwischen Skyros und Euböa wurden noch nie herpetologisch untersucht und würden vielleicht interessante Ergebnisse bringen. Ich halte sie für das aussichtsreichste Ziel einer künftigen herpetologischen Forschungsfahrt in die ägäische Inselwelt.“

That was it! Immediately I began planning a first expedition to Skyros and the outer islands of the Northern Sporades. And all follow up exploration and conservation work since - right to the present day when I am writing about this sequence of events in my island retreat of Thassos - was sparked off by these few lines in Otto von Wettstein's monograph.

A friend from school days, like myself just at the beginning of university terms at Munich, was happy to join me: Wilfried („Pietsch“) Weigand. So in August 1957 we set off for a never ending train journey of over fifty hours to Piraeus, carrying lots of useful as well as never unpacked gear in metal boxes and canvas bags. Pietsch had obtained a letter of introduction by a Greek study collegue to his mother: the good lady did not speak any foreign language and we could not even utter a proper Good Day... Nevertheless we managed to communicate alright, obtained an official permit to enter the island of Gioura from a very helpful Mr. Polychronopoulos at the Ministry of Agriculture, and soon embarked the crowded deck of the steamship Ionion for Skyros. During the night, the tall chimney discharged a constant flurry of soot-flakes; so we were glad to disembark in the bay of Linaria and soon found an empty room to rent – not quite empty, though, because at night hordes of hungry bed bugs approaches us from their hiding places in the wooden floor. DDT (Paral) did a good job, but shortly afterwards we had to combat paratyphoid fever. Fortunately Pietsch was quite knowledgeable about medications and had the very strong antibiotic Terramycin in his bag. At the waterfront of Linaria the bakery of Philippos became our base, because Philipp also run the kafenion for the fishermen and owned himself a barge with engine – so we could reach the nearest islands offshore and search for lizards on this Terra incognita - following the imaginary trail laid by Philipp Lehrs and Otto von Wettstein.

During this and the follow up journey in spring 1958 we visited all 48 larger and small islands of the Northern Sporades which supported a population of lizards (Podarcis erhardii subspec.). Pietsch tavelled a third time to the islands in 1959 while I was on my way to the jungle of New Guinea. In Sydney I received the irrevocable revelation that Pietsch had disappeared in a thunderstorm on Lake Garda. He left no trace behind (cf. Old Alonnisos – the waterfront).

More pictures will be added!

Veröffentlicht am Kategorien Highlights in an Explorer's Life, Northern Sporades, Zoological ResearchSchlagwörter ,

Über Thomas Schultze-Westrum

Dr. Thomas Georg Hans SCHULTZE-WESTRUM Author of Scientific and Popular Publications Producer and Director of Documentary Films and Videos Adviser in Nature Conservation and Preservation of Rural Cultures Initiator of Conservation Programmes German national. Born 1937 (Berlin). Classical education at the Benedictine monastery of Ettal in Upper Bavaria. Graduate of Munich University, with degrees in Zoology, Geology and Cultural Anthropology (Ethnology). Scholarship by “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”. Research (University of Munich, other scientific institutions) and publications on social and population physiology of marsupials and other vertebrate fauna of New Guinea and the Mediterranean Region, cultural anthropology, conservation and resource management on the village level, mainly in Greece and New Guinea. Author of the books “New Guinea” (Berne 1972) and “Biologie des Friedens” (Biology of Peace), Munich 1974. Dr. Schultze-Westrum has joined for several years the Commissions on Ecology and Environmental Planning of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He is the founder of the working group (IUCN Commission on Ecology) “Conservation and Traditional Life Styles” 1979; the “ECOCULTURE” Movement 1981; the “Gesellschaft für die Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen” GEH (Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Breeds of Domestic Animals) 1981; and the non-profit-making society “KALLIERGIA”, for traditional agriculture and village conservation in Greece, 1993. As a consultant he has worked for the EU, IUCN, OECD and WWF. As a film maker he has produced, directed and mostly also shot, for German television and international TV networks, 75 documentaries, mainly ecological portraits with emphasis upon the integration of local and traditionally living people into conservation projects. His first film (1974) was about alternative (sustainable) utilization of tropical rainforests in New Guinea, for ZDF. Never Dr. Schultze-Westrum has entered any of his films into an award winning competition, because he is more concerned about the effects of his TV work in actual conservation and public awareness. One of these real awards was the creation of the Marine National Park Alonnisos Northern Sporades in Greece as a result of his film “The Coast of the Monk Seals” in 1976/77 for ZDF (ratings 36 % - shown in 11 countries). His programme “Green Desert”, about traditional water management in the Sultanate of Oman was distributed by the Television Trust for the Environment TVE to 44, mainly Third World, countries. Another leading aspect of his film work was the production of environmental films for the people of the country where he was filming. So, he produced the first TV series of films on ecology, rural life styles and conservation for Greece (in the early 80’s, 14 programmes) and for the Sultanate of Oman (late 80’s, 12 films). His deep interest in ancient human traditions inspired him to produce “Omani Seafaring”, for Oman TV; “Im Kielwasser Sindbads” (In the Wake of Sindbad), for the series Terra X of ZDF; and “Insel der Magier” (Island of the Sorcerers: Waigeo) for ARTE TV. After retiring from TV film production at the end of 2002 he is returning to his earlier scientific work (abandoned in the early 70’s) about the social and population physiology of marsupials ( Petaurus breviceps papuanus and closely related species); village based conservation; the evolution of human communal behaviour and cultural diversity; and the evolution of art styles in the Papuan Gulf province of New Guinea. Since 1992 he is also involved in eco- and agrotourism programmes that are based on his earlier promotion of this alternative “soft” tourism through publications and films, in Greece and West Papua. His conservation activities are continuously focussed on Greece and New Guinea, since 1957 and 1959, respectively. Dr. Schultze-Westrum now is writing up his experiences of many years field work and he is keeping communications alive through his homepage, from the ancient village of Kazaviti on the island of Thassos in the northern Aegean Sea. The conservation and re-activation of outstanding traditional values of Kazaviti stand at the centre of a local museum and documentation centre to be set up in one or even two old Macedonian stone houses.