|John Rudolf Sievi|
|Born||John Rudolf Sievi|
November 9, 1921
|Died||November 21, 2010|
|Years active||1958 - 2010|
|Known for||Known for being one of the pioneers of Mukuvisi Woodlands Conservancy|
John Rudolf Sievi, called John by his English speaking and Ruedi by his Swiss friends was a birding naturalist Swiss based in Zimbabwe
John Rudolf Sievi was born on 9th November 1921 in Bonaduz, a small mountain village in the Eastern part of Switzerland. From an early age, his obvious interest in nature was nurtured by his father, and John spent much time in the open, exploring the surrounding forests and mountains and observing the wildlife.
After finishing his apprenticeship as a cook, he worked in a number of hotels in Switzerland until the urge to explore got the better of him in 1948, when he set out for Southern Africa, the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg being his first stop. Not surprisingly however, John did not like the big and noisy city, and soon ventured further north into Southern Rhodesia, initially to Bulawayo, and then to Salisbury (now Harare), where he worked as 1st chef at Le Coque d'Or Restaurant.
He then spent 20 years as chef at the prestigious Windsor-Colony Restaurant, and finally another 14 at The Cellar. John was an inspired and very talented chef who loved his chosen profession, and many who enjoyed his culinary skills changed their eating-out places, following him as he moved from one restaurant to another.
In 1958, some time after marrying is wife Anne (Anni), the couple moved into a house in the newly established residential suburb of Wilmington Park, only a road's width away from the Mukuvisi Woodlands. Now, with this magic piece of unspoilt nature at his doorstep, a new world opened up for John.
From the early days when he started to get to know, observe, study and film the birds, the trees and all the other wonders of the Woodlands, these almost became an obsession later on, as Anne put it. Hardly a day went by without John going for a nature walk. He was interested not only in the birdlife, but in every one of nature's wonders, from bats to butterflies, from tees to toads, and from snakes to scorpions.
His wife and four daughters often accompanied him. After retiring from work in the late eighties, John spent innumerable hours in the Mukuvisi Woodlands, walking there almost daily, often twice a day, and frequently during the hours of darkness. He sometimes walked the area in the company of Anne, often with his near neighbour Arthur Barrie and invariably with his black Labrador dog. John and Arthur used to be called the two woodsmen by some of those who were aware of their phenomenal knowledge of the Woodlands and its wildlife, which they freely shared with other nature lovers who were considered sufficiently enthusiastic!
The Mukuvisi Woodlands Association had been formed by then, a 33 year lease had been obtained from the City of Harare, and the whole area had been fenced, the game area separately from the public walking area. John was nominated one of the first Hon. Wardens, and was given a set of keys to fit every gate. Essentially a rather shy and a very modest and unpretentious person, John was eventually persuaded to lead members of the Mashonaland Branch of the OAZ on an annual bird walk at the height of the breeding season in October. His own ramblings through the woodlands having always been unobtrusive and conducted with the utmost consideration for its wild denizens, he was a little concerned about the disturbance a fairly large group of people might cause.
John Sievi's nest walks became one of the best attended activities in the calendar of the MBC, and the number of participants kept growing as the years went by. It was an event not to be missed. John always urged people not to approach nests too closely, or to observe them through their binoculars for any length of time. The nests of any night jars were given a wide berth, and were often not even mentioned. The wildlife always came first with John and Arthur, and people knew that sometimes there were things which they wisely kept to themselves because they knew that man's intrusion into nature can have unintended consequences.
In between his woodland walks, John visited many of the prime wildlife and nature areas of his adopted Country, either with his family or with like minded friends. Mana Pools National Park including Chitake before too many people knew of its existence, the Umfurudzi Safari Area (Umfurudzi Park) and Hippo Pools, the Vumba and Inyanga in the Eastern Highlands, and the lowveld come to mind. These experiences enriched his life immensely, although it seemed to some that the presence of a sunbird nest in a Euphorbia right beside the front door of his house gave John as much pleasure as a field trip. He had an eye for beauty, and for the little things which often go unnoticed.
In 2001, John and Anne, the kindest of people who always extended a helping hand to anyone in need regardless of who he was, were brutally attacked, robbed and injured by a bunch of politically inspired thugs whilst walking in the woodlands one morning. John lost the use of an eye through this vicious and unwarranted act of violence. A dream had turned into a nightmare, and the Sievi's left their beloved Zimbabwe a year later to live close to their youngest daughter and her family in the Southern Drakensberg, near Underberg. There the couple led a quiet contented life until John passed away on 21st November 2010 after a brief illness.
BirdLife Zimbabwe, and in particular its Mashonaland Branch, where John had many friends, extended their sincere condolences to Anne and their three surviving daughters. A legend in his lifetime, John will be remembered by many people for as long as they live.
- Rolf Chenaux-Repond, , BirdLife Zimbabwe, Published: March, 2011, Accessed: 3 December, 2020