Niels Bolwig

From the list of elephant persons Family: Bolwig

Niels Bolwig
Niels  Bolwig

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Personal details
Country Denmark

Title curator 1973-1975
Location at Oklahoma City Zoo in United States

Title zoologist 1946-1959
Location at Ibadan Zoo in Nigeria

Biography details

Niels Bolwig , zoo biologist in Denmark

Born 1911-09-26 in Denmark dead 2004-08-10 in United Kingdom .

Note: this claim of first hand rearing of an orphaned baby elephant in not correct. The first zoo born handreared Orphan, rejected by the mother, was Roma, born 1949 in Rome Zoo, and before that a number of succesful Handrearing in Africa is recorded, among them, Toto, who was hand reared by game hunter and animal dealer Hans Schomburgk in German Tanganyika, in 1908.

Niels Bolwig (September 26, 1911 – September 10, 2004) was a danish zoologist, behavioural biologist, entomologist, lecturer and professor, known for the first documented succesful hand rearing of an orphaned infant elephant and one of the first biologists to study primates in the wild.

Life and career

Niels Bolwig was a behavioural biologist who was one of the first to study primates in the wild. Born 1911 in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, in Denmark, and exams at Schneekloths skole, he became biologist and zoologist at Copenhagen University and spent most of his working life in Africa, retiring in 1979 to England.

He was 1946–1959 lector in zoology at University of Witwatersrand

1959-1962 Makerere College

1962–1966 and 1970–19772 professor at Ibadan University, with a break at University of Oklahoma when he was also working as Scientific curator at Oklahoma City Zoo in USA.

1973–1975 Copenhagen University

From 1977 professor in Biology at National University of Lesotho.

1947 he build a marine biology station on Inhaca Island, and in the 1950s took part in several expeditions to to study the ecology of insects and rodents in the Kalahari Desert.

Bolwig became one of the first to do ethological studies of primates in the wild, encouraged by the anatomist Raymond Dart, and took up the study of primates in order to throw light on the behaviour of early and modern man by carrying out comparative behavioural studies on primates and aboriginal people like the pygmies.

He also went to the Kibale Forest near Ruwenzori, to study chimpanzees, macaques, and colobus monkeys, illustrated by hundreds of colour photographs, which unfortunately still awaits publication.

Bolwig was married 1946 to Bridget Mary Bolwig (née Holmes), born 1911, died at September 3, 2006, and they had two daughters.

Niels Bolwig died at Bath, Somerset in the United Kingdom, 10 September 2004, and rest at Haycombe Cemetery, Bath.

First hand rearing of orphaned elephant

When lecturing professor at Ibadan University, Nigeria in 1963, Bolwig successfully reared an orphaned infant African forest elephant from a few days old, by developing his own rich milk formula consisting of cows' milk and butter fat.

This is believed to be the first successful rearing of an elephant outside Asia, and maybe world wide, since until then most rearing attempts had been unsuccessful due to diet intolerance.

In the International Zoo Yearbook article Observations on the early behaviour of a young african elephant from January 1965, Bolwig describes how an orphaned African forest elephant was brought to Ibadan University on the 13th of December 1963, after her mother was shot in self-defence, when charging a hunter.

The elephant calf was assumed to be about a week old, still having its umbilical cord, and was in good condition, but thin after a week without food. The successful rearing in a garage on the University, is the first scientific description of its kind, and therefore considered being the first documented succesful attempt.

Selected publications

  • Honningbiens Liv (1942) Senses and Sense Organs of the Anterior End of the House Fly Larvae, 1946.
  • Study of the Nests Built by Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee, South African Journal of Science, 1959, LV 286–91.
  • A Comparative Study of the Behaviour of various Lemurs, Memoires de L'Institut Scientifique de Madagascar, Ser. A, Tome XIV 205–17.
  • From Mosquitoes to Elephants, autobiography (1988).

Reference list


Koehl, Dan, (2024). biologist Niels Bolwig in United States. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 24 July 2024 at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

Selected publications

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Categories biologist | zoo | Oklahoma City Zoo | Bolwig family | Born 1911 | Dead 2004 | People from Denmark

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