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World-Renowned Wildlife Researcher Killed

World-Renowned Wildlife Researcher KilledBefore her tragic death in a plane crash, Tufts graduate Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn dedicated her life to protecting gorillas, elephants and rhinos across Africa. Libreville, Gabon.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.08.02] The first scientist to link Ebola outbreaks with the disappearance of large gorilla populations in Africa, Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn, 35, was world-renowned for her groundbreaking work to study and protect gorilla, elephant and rhino populations across the African continent. On Sat., Nov 2, the graduate of Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine - known for her adventurous spirit and love for her work - was tragically killed in a plane crash, shocking and saddening her colleagues around the world.

"From day one, she was just one of the special students that we get every couple of years who is just so sincere and so energetic," Tufts' Dr. Mark Pokras said on Thursday. "She pulled together the students who were interested in international affairs and wildlife and conservation, and had this incredible optimism and positive energy that was so refreshing, wonderful and invigorating."

Kilbourn's research - which took her around the world - was considered crucial by many.

"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," reported the New York Times. "Her findings had important implications for the preservation of Africa's primates, as well as for the spread of the disease among humans.

Fluent in seven languages, Kilbourn was able to build important partnerships in many of the countries where she worked, providing a key resource to protect endangered wildlife.

"Dr. Kilbourn forged new ground with our lowland gorilla health program," Dr. William Karesh - one of her longtime colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society - told the Stamford Advocate. "With her typical aplomb, she quickly built trust and working relationships with local people, researchers, park managers and government officials in six cities in three countries."

Through her research - which began shortly after she received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tufts - Kilbourn discovered that tourists who visited wildlife reserves may have been unknowingly infecting the animals with a host of deadly diseases.

"Dr. Kilbourn's discovery made it increasingly important to protect the major concentration of gorillas, believed to be the largest in the world, living in the nearby Odzala National Park, about 100 kilometers away over the border in Congo, controlling access to them by humans and animals that might be carrying the virus," reported the Times. "Before her death Dr. Kilbourn had herself been in charge of protecting the health of these animals."

It was a dangerous job, but the Tufts graduate was dedicated to the wildlife she strove to protect.

"When most people in her position might have run away in fear, Annelisa bravely marched into the heart of danger, because it was important and because she would have it no other way," Dr. Robert Cook - head of the Wildlife Health Center at the Bronx Zoo - told the Advocate.

Those who knew Kilbourn said she was focused on making a positive impact.

"I had the pleasure of working closely with Annelisa during her four years at Tufts," said Sheila Moffatt, the manager of Tufts' environmental and population health department. "She was diligent and unwavering in her pursuit to do her best for the good of all."

Her passion for animals began during her childhood.

"According to her parents, Annelisa's passion for animals and wildlife was apparent from an early age," Karesh told the Advocate. "She arranged all of her stuffed animals in her toy chest to ensure that they would always breathe easily."

She forged her love of animals into a career she embraced with all her energy.

When a colleague suggested Kilbourn take a break from her research - which she often did for 16 hours at a time, seven days a week - to find time for a short vacation, the Tufts graduate wasn't interested.

"Why?" she asked, according to Karesh. "I'm on vacation every day."

A memorial fund for veterinarians in developing countries has been established in Kilbourn's name. Donations should be made to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

 

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