His Life-Story

Karl Peter Trebbau Millowitsch otherwise known as Pedro Trebbau, is a German-Venezuelan zoologist who has dedicated his life to promoting the conservation of the flora and fauna in Venezuela, the country he took up home in. His conservation work and hand in building zoological parks in the country set a worldwide benchmark.

Born in the Germany in the city of Cologne in 1929, Trebbau showed a keen interest in the animal kingdom and natural world from a very early age. As a boy it was customary to have animals at home; fish, rats and snakes. He would hear his familia talk about his Great-Grandfather’s involvement in building a zoo and that instilled in him interest that later drove his vocation. By the thime he was an adolescent it was clear he wanted to study zoology, veterinary medicine and become the director of a zoological park - he has never been afraid of any animals.

Quite a few years would pass before Trebbau would decide to travel to Venezuela as a student with the hopes of broadening his knowledge on the country’s wildlife. In Germany, during his youth, he would live through crises that impacted the world; the collapse of the Wall Street Stock Exchange (the year he was born) and the rise of fascism across Europe that gave way to Adolf Hitler in 1932 and the Second World War that left Germany in tatters for many years after. At that time, uncertainty, fear and dissatisfaction ran rife among German citizens and there were two options; to surrender or to live. Trebbau choose to live.

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Venezuela

Venezuela has always been a country of opportunities and, in the 1950's, when Trebbau arrived there, everything was yet to be done. At 24 years old, he had studied zoology in Freiburg and was beginning his career as a veterinary physician. He was just setting out on his true passion: animals. The possibility to travel to Venezuela stemmed from an invitation made to him by Dr. Guillermo Vogelsang, a professor at the Veterinary Sciences School of the Venezuelan Central University. Trebbau did not speak Spanish; this, however, was no obstacle. A few months earlier, he decided to take a semester at the Barcelona University in Spain to learn the language.

There was reason enough for him to stay in his country of origin, but Venezuela would afford him the possibility to be, to accomplish himself as a person and as a professional. There, he would find virgin land ready to be explored reaping many satisfactions and could build a family thanks to the bounties of the country and the kindness of its people.

The best moment

In 1953, for the main purpose of acquainting himself with the Rancho Grande Biological Station at the foot of the Henri Pittier National Park hosting the country's most representative fauna, he was excited by the fact that he could work as an apprentice at the Veterinary Medicine School in Maracay located quite close to the station. It was a privileged place that nature and life offered him to research the biological diversity of that small piece of the country.

At the time, the Venezuelan government was promoting Veterinary Medicine in the country to systematize cattle breeding plans and had called-in foreign professionals. By then, the Veterinary Medicine School was in Maracay, where Trebbau arrived armed with a microscope, binoculars, a few books, and enough clothes to tide him over for some six months in Venezuela. He was not going to stay.

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More reasons

In 1956, he went on his first expedition to the Auyantepuy. The reason for the expedition was to collect mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates. Eleven professors of the School of Agronomy, four students from the Venezuelan Central University, and one student for the Los Andes University took part in the expedition, and, among them, was Trebbau, the only one from the School of Veterinary Medicine.

150 animals and almost 700 plants were collected on that expedition where important findings were made of different species, such as, for example: the snake Liophis trebbaui and the odonata, or 'caballito del diablo' (damselfly), Irydiction trebbaui, which were unknown till then and were then classified

His years in Maracay were enough for Trebbau to decide to establish himself in Venezuela, moved largely by the opportunity to direct the El Pinar Zoo upon his graduation. In the year 1957, he decided to take Venezuelan nationality for a number of reasons; Trebbau felt comfortable in the country and expressed his love for its geography and its people. He always thought of himself as someone who had been born in Venezuela.

Along His Path:

zoos

In late 1957, he returned to Germany to complete his studies in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Giessen. Before coming back, he completed several apprenticeships at the San Diego City Zoo, one of the most important zoos in the United States of America.

Later on, in the year 1958, he returned to Venezuela to complete his studies and receive his Diploma from the School of Veterinary Medicine of the Venezuelan Central University. One of his main interests was to operate on animals; hence, the subject of his Graduation Thesis was Terminal Artery Ligature and Resection in Canines. He remembers being the first student in the school who completed an experimental surgery procedure, a "Gastrectomy on a Dog", even before the subject was included in the study plan.

At the end of 1958, he was appointed Technical Director of the El Pinar Zoo with the double task of improving the facilities while working in parallel to create the largest and most modern zoo in the country. Trebbau assumed the responsibility of personally finding an ideal place in Caracas where an open zoological park, with no cages, could be envisioned. This was a hefty challenge both to the architects and the designers of the project. The Caricuao Zoo was created in 1974 by Presidential Decree. That same year, Trebbau assumed the management of the new zoo, where he remained until 1979.

Trebbau's influence is reflected in almost all Venezuelan zoos; in addition to his having provided advisory services to parks and zoos in Santo Domingo, Costa Rica, and Guiana.

When our guiding light is passion

At the time, Trebbau found in television a marvellous means to professionally transmit his great passion for fauna and soon became a benchmark and a necessity for the audience. His ability to relate with people, his elegance, and his profound knowledge were his banner for doing approximately ten years of television.

He participated in producing and directing different TV Programs: "Children's Zoo", "Fauna", "Rainforest Camp" (“Zoológico Infantil”, “La Fauna”, “Campamento en la Selva”). His main motivation was to build alliances with the television media so as to reach a large audience and be able to transmit his conservationist teachings. He also made micros for "Venezolana de Television" and, in the 60's, produced programs for European and U.S. Television. In the year 1973, he co-produced a program, "The Scourge of the Sun" (“El Azote del Sol”) in honour of Félix Rodríguez de La Fuente.

He received the USA Academy of Television Sciences and Arts Award a couple of times for the periods between 1968-1069 and 1969-1970.

Aviation was another discovery of Trebbau's that gave him many satisfactions. He learnt to fly at 70 years of age, when there were no technological resources like we have today and travel itineraries were based on compasses and sextants. He was a great aviator. In an interview in the mid-80's, he said that, without this means of transport, he would not have been able to complete even ¾ of his work. Among a few anecdotes told within the context of Trebbau's adventures is the one about the parrots, the ones that are exclusive to Bonnaire. He was aware that they were dying as the result of drought and lack of food. So, he and a friend went out to the streets of La Florida in Caracas and gathered some mangos, got on a plane with about 60 sacks of them, and flew over the island tossing the mangos to the parrots. By doing so, they made it a little easier for the parrots to brave the summer and kept them from dying. His vocation knew no boundaries.

To leave a mark

Trebbau took great interest in "toninas", at a time when little had been said about this abundant species of the Apure River. He focused on the ecology and on describing them in great detail with obsessive precision, writing different articles on them in 1974 (with Peter J. H. Van Bree of the Amsterdam University), 1975, and 1980. Before writing on the "toninas" (aka freshwater-dolphins), however, Trebbau had published other articles: A New Genus of Poisonous Corals with Janis Roze in 1958. The Otter in 1972, 1978, and 1992. The Capybara in 1979. The Opossum in 1971.

He wrote a book that has become the "bible" on environmental matters involving chelonians, a book that entwines his scientific interests with his expeditioner's heart. He wrote the book with Peter Pritchard a U.S. national. They travelled through the country for two years studying different species; one anecdote tells of them finding a freshwater-turtle in Southern Maracaibo park that was unknown to science at the time, which they baptized giving it the name of Phrynops zuliae.

The result of that trip was a book containing 400 pages of text, 25 illustrations, 22 photographs, and 16 maps identifying a number of locations. It was edited in 1984 completely in the English language. The proceeds from the book were donated in their entirety to the foundation that had backed them and given them support, the Internados Rurales. The book was baptized and given the name of "Turtles of Venezuela".

One Value: Family

There was no doubt; Trebbau was destined to build his family on Venezuelan soil. His relationships, his work, his commitment had all given him the necessary support to take root in this country. And he arrived alone. By 33 years of age, he was already the Director of the El Pinar Zoo. He and Helena López Fraíno, an 18-year old young lady, would make their way together from then on.

Foreign, handsome, efficient, different, since he lived with a lion that he kept at home for nine months until he found it more permanent shelter, and he was even timid. Those were the elements of his passport into this Venezuelan Family; Helena was the last but one of seven siblings, a great grand-daughter of the President of the Republic in times of Castro. A very close-knit family. They married in 1964. Helena with her impetus and overwhelming personality would be in charge of running the home and balance her husband's quieter solitary disposition. Trebbau, sure of his purpose, would dedicate himself and concentrate on his work and his expeditions despite Helena's wishes that he involve himself more in the business of her family. Helena and Pedro had seven children: Gabriela Lucía, Carlos Pedro, Patricia Helena, Helena Cristina, Carlos Alberto, Katharina José, and Pedro José.

When they were kids, outings to Caricuao before the zoo was built, television programs hosted by their dad, excursions through rivers full of babas, the small alligators typical to Venezuela, light-plane flights, and having not so tame animals visit their home, were all normal things that they would do. All of the members of this family always breathed an atmosphere or team work, perseverance, respect for others, and discipline.

Throughout his life and professional career, Trebbau has provided support, whether by his own active work or by providing advice, to a number of different foundations, such as FUDENA, the Venezuelan Association of Natural Sciences, the Humboldt Cultural Association, the Scientific Foundation Los Roques, Audubon, and Fundatrópicos, among others.

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