We mourn the death of the founder of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, our emeritus full professor Dr. med. vet. Kurt Onderscheka, who died on 10 March 2019. His creative power, his talent for organization, his tenacious will and incredible commitment to the local wildlife and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna will remain unforgotten. His name is inextricably linked to the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and its success story.
Kurt Onderscheka was born on 20 November 1926 in Eleonorenhain in the Bohemian Forest (today's Czech Republic). After attending school in Prague and Vienna, after the end of the war Austria became his new home. From 1945-1950 he studied veterinary medicine at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and received his doctorate in 1951. In 1950 he took over a veterinary practice in Pinzgau (Salzburg), which he developed into one of the largest large animal practices in Austria. He left the practice after 10 years to devote himself to his special interest in animal nutrition, first with an activity in the industry, and starting in 1964 back at his alma mater, as an assistant at the Institute of Medical Chemistry. In 1970, he habilitated in animal nutrition and feed science. His long-standing interest in nutrition and wildlife issues became a new scientific focus. In 1976 he was appointed full professor of the newly established department of Wildlife Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
The University Organization Act 1975 created for the first time the possibility to involve private financiers directly in university research. Kurt Onderscheka seized this opportunity. He succeeded in attracting sponsors from industry and the Austrian hunting federations for the promotion of wildlife research. On December 22, 1977, the first research institute in Austria that operated under the joint financing of a university and private donors (organized as a membership society) was founded. Kurt Onderscheka was appointed head of the new Research Institute of Wildlife Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. Then this new institute needed a suitable space. With his tireless energy, Kurt Onderscheka was able to gain the support of the City of Vienna, which still generously provides the institute´s building on Wilhelminenberg with an adjoining 45 hectare research enclosure for wildlife research. The federal government also provided significant financial resources, as did the City of Vienna, the Austrian hunting associations and private sponsors, which made it possible to turn the former outbuilding of Schloss Wilhelminenberg into a modern research facility. The institute flourished, extended its research agendas to ecological contexts and today enjoys international recognition as the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, "FIWI" for short.
Kurt Onderscheka received numerous awards for his scientific achievements, including the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art First Class and the large silver medal for services to the Republic of Austria. Even after his retirement in 1995, Kurt Onderscheka always remained associated with FIWI. His life's work is the foundation of the existing Research Center for Organismic Biology at Wilhelminenberg, consisting of the FIWI, the neighboring Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology and the Austrian Ornithological Institute, summarized in the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. We will not forget the Founding Father of FIWI and keep him in honorable memory.
Vienna, in March 2019
o.Univ.Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Arnold
Head of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology