Posts Tagged With: Konstanty Jelski

Save the bison

I’m sure you remember my post from 28th October about Konstanty Jelski. The Zoological Department of Warsaw University Museum benefited so much from Jelski’s work that when he ceased the cooperation, the Department quickly decided to send another scientist to South America. I’m going to write a few words about that scientist.

Jan Sztolcman

Jan Stanislaw Sztolcman was born on 19th November 1854 in Warsaw. After middle school (gimnazjum in Polish) Sztolcman started studying zoology at the Warsaw University. That was year 1872. In the same year he joined the Zoological Department and became an assistant to Wladyslaw Taczanowski (zoologist). His main task was helping Taczanowski with preparation of birds skins sent from South America by Jelski. The Department was financed by counts Aleksander and Konstanty Branickis (the latter was financing Jelski’s expeditions).

In 1875 Sztolcman went to Peru to continue Jelski’s work. He chose Lima as his HQ. His expeditions covered Peru and Equador. He discovered four new bird species, described Indian tribes and as one of the first ornithologists described hummingbirds.

After 6 years, in 1881 Sztolcman returned to Warsaw only to go back next year. This time he went to Equador and set up his base in a city of Guayaquil. During his expeditions he was accompanied by Jozef Siemiradzki (geologist and palaeontologist), whose written coverage of those expeditions is the only available source of information.  In the same year they met Ernest Malinowski (Peru’s national hero and the designer of Ferrocarril Central Andino – the central railway of Peru) with whom they spent Christmas. People who at least once spent Christmas away from home know how depressing it can be, so I’m sure it was a joyful time for all three of them. I’m going to dedicate at least one post to Ernest Malinowski. I’m also planning to take a ride across the Andes to see this marvel of engineering.

Sztolcman (sitting) and Siemiradzki with Sztolcman’s dog Jok (Dżok). Photograph taken in Equador in 1883

In 1884 Jan Sztolcman came back to Warsaw where three years later he became a director of  the Branicki’s Zoological Museum which in 1919 became the very first National Zoological Museum in Poland. While working there he became docent and then a professor of geology and palaeontology.

In 1889 he established a “Polish Hunter” (Łowiec Polski) magazine which he had edited till his death. He also established a Cynological Association.

Edition of “Polish Hunter” (Łowiec Polski)

To break the routine, in 1901 Sztolcman took a part in the expedition to Sudan.

In 1923 he was sent to Paris as Polish representative for the First International Congress for the Protection of Nature. He presented there his project of saving the European Bison (he based that on similar project that was very successful in USA). At that time there were only around 50 European Bison alive around the world, all of them in captivity (the last “free” European Bison was killed in 1919). At the moment there are around 3000 European Bison living.

European Bison. Sztolcman saved these majestic animals from extinction

Even though he was a very busy man he found time to give hunting lectures at Agricultural University. In 1926 he became a member of the State Council for Nature Conservation.

Jan Sztolcman died on 29th April 1928 and was buried in Wilanow.

Apart from saving the European Bison from extinction Sztolcman left almost 370 scientific publications. They were published in Poland, France, UK, Germany and Russia. Many species of animals were named after him. He was one of the most merited explorers of South America.

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A spider-man :)

If you’re not very much interested in zoology, you probably haven’t heard about Konstanty Jelski, a Polish zoologist and explorer, but he’s well worth mentioning.

Konstanty Roman Jelski was born on 17th February 1837 in a small village called Lada, in today’s Belarus. His parents, Michal and Klotylda (sister of Stanislaw Moniuszko – a Polish composer), were prosperous, which allowed young Konstanty to get well educated.

Konstanty Jelski

After finishing secondary school in Minsk, for 3 years Konstanty studied medicine in Moscow, from where he moved to Kiev to study at Science and Environmental Department. Unfortunately, in 19th century’s Poland, a way to a scientific career led through one of the occupant’s university (Russian, Prussian or Austrian). It wasn’t easy to resist the forceful imposition of German or Russian culture and language, when anything related to Poland was banned. But as you know, Poles managed to live and keep their identity through 123 years of partitions. But we have great examples of how hard it is in today’s world. According to International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 50% of Tibetans are analphabets and Chinese educational policy is called “assimilating”. We, Poles, have heard that before…

In 1858 Konstanty submitted a dissertation about birds’ tracheae and obtained a gold medal and master’s degree. He spent a few years working at Zoology Department as a keeper and in 1863 was offered a teacher position at the university, but he refused saying he wasn’t capable of such an honour. He wanted to continue his education in Germany, but he landed in… Turkey, where he made his living by colouring maps for schools.

In 1865 he went to Paris and in July on board of “Amazon” he sailed for French Guiana. You can find Konstanty’s stories from 1865-1871 in his book, which unfortunately is hard to get and it was published in Polish. But when reading it you can find out how dedicated to his work he was. I think we can easily say his work was his passion. He went through hell when he thought he would have to stay aboard while in Madeira, because “some snails’ and insects’ species are not present outside Madeira” and it was such a great opportunity to see them.

19th century postcard from French Guiana

After four years in Guiana he went to Peru, where he stayed for ten more years. From 1868 he was supported by count Konstanty Branicki from Poland (explorer and naturalist himself) who wanted Jelski to go deeper into South America to collect specimen and then send them to Poland. Thanks to this cooperation many examples of South American fauna and flora were sent to Poland and tens if not hundreds of dissertations were based on them. To give you a sample – 300 species of spiders were collected and posted by Jelski, only from Peru…

Birds’ specimen sent to Poland by Jelski

But it’s not that he concentrated only on work, apparently he wanted to marry a Peruvian woman, but I guess none of them was interested 😀 After coming back to Poland he married his cousin, Helena Korsakowna and became the curator of the Natural History Department of Academy of Learning in Krakow. The salary must have been low as he went very often to Dalmatia (today’s Croatia) or France to collect specimen and sell them afterwards to support the family budget. Apparently, if he didn’t have to waste time to earn more money he would have become even a greater scientist. He was making Chinese ink that was as good as the original one. His fruit wines were so good that people weren’t able to guess what fruits they were made of.

Many orchids were collected and sent to Poland

Konstanty was 58 at the time of his death, so still quite young. Ha had a stroke and was told by the doctor to rest in bed, but Konstanty was not the resting type, he’d always had so much to do. He had another stroke and on 26th November 1896 Konstanty Jelski died.

Konstanty Jelski was a typical 19th century’s Polish scientist – educated at foreign university, dedicated his life to science. Many young scientists (not only Polish ones) made use of specimen collected and discovered and studies conducted by Jelski in South America and he still is an acclaimed ornithologist and zoologist.

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