On November 2, 2002, Wildlife Conservation Society Field Veterinarian Annelisa Kilbourn was tragically lost in a small plane crash while working in Central Africa. Even at the young age of 35, Annelisa had already achieved what most of us only dream of accomplishing. She was a gifted artist, trained as a pilot, held a black belt in Tai Kwon Do, spoke seven languages fluently, and many of you will rememberher sheer joy of dancing.
As a veterinarian, she had cared for animals in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Through her exceptional work ethic, unwavering dedication, and unparalled fullness of spirit, Annelisa helped to save imperiled wildlife populations. In Malaysia, she conducted the first research on the health of free ranging orangutans, and later assisted the government in translocating orangutans and elephants to safe havens. In Borneo, she worked to protect the last remaining rhinoceroses. In Central Africa, she worked tirelessly to expand WCS’s Gorilla Health Program to protect the health of both people and wildlife throughout the region. She was also an instrumental part of the team that for the first time identified Ebola virus as a cause of death in free-ranging gorillas and chimpanzees.
Through Annelisa’s unwavering quest to protect the world’s most vulnerable wildlife, she also vastly enriched the lives of the people around her. She lived fully by the principles of inclusion and sharing, truly believing that she could make more of a difference in the lives of people and animals by teaching others the skills and knowledge of health and conservation. She made a special point of focusing on people and regions where lack of scientific education left many in the dark.
In the months prior to her death, Annelisa circled the globe, building working relationships with local people, researchers, park managers and government officials, all in the name of conservation. Annelisa was home no matter where she was on earth, she took responsibility as a good citizen of the world, and she participated actively as a member of the community of beings that share this planet.
In June 2003, Dr. Kilbourn, was posthumously selected as one of eight people or organizations to be placed on the United Nations Environment Program’s Global Roll of Honor for her contributions towards preserving the environment. In this honor she joins the ranks of distinguished scientists and environmentalists such as Jacque Cousteau and Jane Goodall, and we think she is the first person on this list to represent the world’s wildlife health professionals.
During her life, although it was far too short, Annelisa made a difference. She made a difference in the lives of the people she worked with, in the lives of the animals she cared for, and in the efforts to conserve and protect the world’s threatened wildlife. Annelisa was our friend and colleague and is deeply missed by those of us at WCS, those who worked with her around the globe, and by the international wildlife conservation community.
Annelisa Kilbourn, 35, Expert Who Linked Ebola to Death of Gorillas, Is Dead
Annelisa M. Kilbourn, a British veterinarian and wildlife expert, who established that gorillas can die of the deadly Ebola virus, was killed on Saturday when the light plane she was flying in crashed in the Lope Nature Preserve in the Central African nation of Gabon. She was 35.
Working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which announced her death on Monday from its headquarters at the Bronx Zoo, Dr. Kilbourn was investigating last year's Ebola outbreak in that country and its relationship to the indigenous gorilla population.
Earlier this year , Dr. Kilbourn established for the first time that Ebola is a serious threat to wild gorillas as well as to humans when she found dead specimens in the jungle and found that the disease had killed them, the society said.
Her findings had important implications for the preservation of Africa's primates as well as for the spread of the disease among humans. Scientists had already noted that an earlier outbreak of Ebola in the same area in 1996 had led to a sharp decline in the gorilla population and now they knew why.
They also now knew that Ebola, as well as hunting by humans, is one of the reasons gorillas are fast disappearing from Africa's forests. Dr. Kilbourn's discovery also made it increasingly important to protect the major concentration of gorillas, believed to be the largest left in the world, living in the nearby Odzala National Park, about 100 kilometers away over the border in Congo, by controlling access to them by humans and animals that might be carrying the virus. Before her death Dr. Kilbourn had herself been in charge of protecting the health of these animals.
Finally, the knowledge that gorillas as well as chimpanzees and monkeys are vulnerable to Ebola implied that one of the ways the disease spreads among humans is through the hunting and eating of infected primates.
Ebola is a poorly understood tropical disease that erupts from time to time in various parts of Africa and for which there is no cure. The disease can cause internal organs to liquefy; about 70 percent of its human victims die.
Annelisa Marcelle Kilbourn was born June 27 1967, in Zurich. A British citizen, she received bachelor's degrees in ecology and in environmental biology at the University of Connecticut in 1990 and graduated in veterinary
medicine from Tufts University in 1996.
From 1996 to 1998 Dr. Kilbourn worked in Malaysia with a Wildlife Health Fellowship from the Wildlife Conservation Society, helping protect free ranging orangutans and elephants.
Upon completion of this project she took a two-year position at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Later she accepted a permanent position at the Shedd but also worked with the SOS Rhino project to save
Borneo's rhinos, and with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Central Africa.
Dr. Kilbourn is survived by her parents, Hans and Barry Kilbourn of Norwalk, Conn., and by her sister, Kirsten Kilbourn of South Windsor, Conn. [USA].