Niko Tinbergen was a Dutch ethologist, zoologist, and ornithologist. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz, his longtime colleague and friend. Together with Lorenz, Tinbergen established European ethology as the study of the behavioral patterns of animals in the context of their natural environments.
The partnership between Lorenz and Tinbergen proved fruitful and memorable. The difference in their abilities was complementary, and with a common goal and respect for each other they worked together toward it. Tinbergen believed that the study of ethology should be applied to human behavior as well as animals, just as Lorenz applied his theories to the human situation. As much as Tinbergen enjoyed his work with animals, he was also deeply concerned with the problems of humans.
Both men, then, held the ultimate goal of understanding human nature sufficiently in order to help humankind and achieve an ideal society. This they could not achieve. Thus, Tinbergen, like Lorenz, ended his career with concern for the future of humanity. Although their work was magnificent, and opened the way for new avenues of research and understanding of human behavior, their focus on animals may have limited their ability to understand what is essentially human. Human beings are beings not only of physical body and instincts, but also mind and spirit. Tinbergen's great work could not achieve full understanding of the human being unless he included the human spirit. Nevertheless, his efforts and concern for humanity constitute a valuable and meaningful legacy.