Tribute To Werner Trense, 1922-2015
June 2015, Volume 13-3

“The three Bushmen on the other side of the river, they have been watching us since more than 3 hours – but now they are gone” Werner Trense shook his head – “No, they are not gone, and they were not just watching us – they are hungry. Take a boat over with some meat, grain, salt and other foodstuff and lay it down where they disappeared….”

It was around 1960, on Trense’s farm Mumba in Angola, which he built together with his wife Mutz, a world renowned pilot, when a few days later a grateful group of bushmen sat in his yard. Someone translated: “Would Werner be interested to hunt a very old elephant?” Would he ever! Then, the Bushmen explained, they would come again and fetch him, lead him to a place in the bush. There he should stay for 8 days – and they would slowly move the old bull to him. Which they did, and he took the old bull eventually. And the meat of the enormous animal fed the entire tribe for weeks …


Werner Trense was born on a farm in Mecklenburg, Germany on March 23, 1922. Before he could follow his passion to study wildlife biology, he found himself drafted and served with distinction in the German Army as a tank commander during World War II. He survived the war and a Russian prisoner of war camp. On his return to Germany in 1947, he started to study zoology and ethnology in Hamburg, followed by Cambridge in 1949. Trense was fortunate enough to immediately land a job as biologist on the first German Polar Expedition in 1950, and made himself a name as a harpooner. But he also had to earn a living after the return and he signed up with a commercial fishing trawler. “Not that the girls particularly liked the way I smelled, when back on land …” he recounted with his signature cheerful smile.

After his first tour the captain announced a most welcome bonus; and typical for Werner he thought of sharing with his friends! Back on terra firma, he immediately invited them to a festive dinner at a harbor restaurant in Hamburg, and returned to the trawler to pick up his gear – and his bonus. “Would you believe it”, he grinned at me, telling the story, “my well-earned bonus consisted of a bag of fish … well, I cancelled the restaurant and the girls worked hard to prepare the fish that evening in my small student digs!

The years 1952 to 1954 saw Trense as head of the University of Hamburg’s Angola Expedition”. This key experience started his love for and his infatuation with Africa, as well as his deep respect for the local population. He studied their different cultures with his typical open mindedness.

Werner and I shared many hours of hunting in different parts of the world and had ample opportunity to talk about the understanding and honoring the differences of local cultures. “You know, as an ethnologist today – they treat you as a racist, incredible, he mentioned more than once. “Yes, of course I am a racist, I once told a politician (who needs politicians anyway?), I love Bushmen, I love Inuit, I love Chukchi and Pygmies”, he continued. In the year 2000, on Werner Trense’s initiative, the General Assembly of the CIC was dedicated exclusively to the celebration of the life styles of these original hunter-fisher-gatherers of the planet.

Vol13_3_art16bFor 25 years Werner Trense served the CIC, first as head of a Commission, followed by a long term as CIC Secretary General. He shaped the scientific backbone of the CIC and laid the groundwork for the organization’s reputation of today. Most certainly this alone is an enormous merit. But Werner’s role was even more decisive than just laying a solid scientific basis. At the height of the Cold War and when the Iron Curtain divided Europe, the ever enthusiastic Werner Trense built friendships across this almost impenetrable continental divide. Just as the title of his personal Memoire, Game does not know borders, suggests, and he was adamant that neither do hunters.

Today, as we travel almost without restrictions, cannot imagine what it meant at the time, when thanks to the CIC and CIC Secretary General Werner Trense, hunters from the Eastern Block joined forces with their colleagues in the West. This was an invaluable service for the better understanding of people!

My space for celebrating Werner Trense’s life in this issue of African Indaba is limited. One cannot honor and do justice to such a personality as Werner by only citing his Curriculum vitae. All right, I mention briefly the further stations of his life.

He expanded his zoological knowledge with intensive studies under the tutorship of Prof. Dr. Hans Krieg of the Zoologische Staatssammlung (München). At the International Hunting Exhibition in Düsseldorf 1954 Werner served as expert on African Game. In two expeditions to Iran in 1956, he rediscovered a small population of the Mesopotamian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica), thought to be extinct by the 1940s, in the Khuzestan Province and brought some individuals back to the von Opel Zoo in Germany. Then followed the years of tobacco farming and cattle ranching in Angola. Just before the revolution, former Katanga strongman Moishe Tshombe warned Werner to leave Angola. He subsequently settled in Munich and worked with a passion for the CIC whilst maintaining his valuable friendships around the globe. During this time his still topical and widely distributed book Big Game of the World took shape. And last not least – Werner Trense scientifically most valuable collection of the antlers of all the Cervids of the World needs to be mentioned – the collection included all known species and sub-species, extant and extinct. The only antler set missing – the Corsican or Sardinian red deer (Cervus elaphus corsicanus) – was presented to Werner by the CIC on occasion birthday of Werner’s 90th birthday celebration.

Werner and I often had long discussions on measuring hunting trophies. “A gold medal specimen is a luxury of nature,” he used to state adamantly, what we are looking for is the average trophy, as a bio indicator for a healthy game population”. Werner was totally opposed to the trophy craziness of certain hunters and vigorously fought against viewing a hunting experience only through the narrow slit of the size of a trophy.

I have the honor to quote Prof. Valerius Geist’s remarks about Werner Trense: “Werner Trense was exceptional. He was a man of great physical, but above all intellectual courage, one who deeply appreciated knowledge, and who continually fostered its creation. And it was not knowledge in any narrow sense, far from it. Werner Trense thought in great strategic terms, yet fully appreciative of the nuts and bolts and idiosyncrasies of knowledge creation. And that made him a fascinating partner in any discussion. Yes, one could learn from him. I must dwell on knowledge, because for Werner Trense it was so vital for conservation, for public policy, and he strove to present the brightest and the best in his books. He had a fine gift in his ability to communicate, not only by word, but also by images”.

Do we miss him? For sure, but we are also proud of, and grateful for the time, we spent together; we value the many fascinating interpretations of life he taught us and others. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation CIC owes Werner Trense, the CIC Honorary Secretary General, the creative foundation to our fundamental positioning as a conservation leader in our task to promote, across the globe, sustainable hunting as a tool to conserve wildlife and wild lands, benefit communities and sustain our hunting heritage.