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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : DR. ANNELISA M. KILBOURN, 35


  Veterinarian who worked at Shedd, studied wildlife

By Shia Kapos
Tribune staff reporter
November 11, 2002

That Dr. Annelisa M. Kilbourn was passionate about the Sumatran rhino is no surprise to those who knew the veterinarian who had worked at Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium.

"She was animal-mad absolutely from the word go," said her father, Barry.

Dr. Kilbourn, 35, a wildlife expert whose research is helping save gorillas in Africa and rhinos in Malaysia, died Saturday, Nov. 2, in a plane crash in the Lope Reserve in Gabon, Africa.

She was born in Zurich, where her father was a science researcher. As a child, she lived in Great Britain and Belgium before moving to the United States.

The Kilbourns settled in the woody environs of Westport, Conn., where Dr. Kilbourn was known to pick up stray pets or hurt animals and care for them.

"Anything that moved was picked up, looked after and kept in a box. And if it didn't survive, it was given a burial in the back yard," her father said.

Dr. Kilbourn earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tufts University.

She studied orangutans and elephants in Malaysia and the ring-tailed lemur in Madagascar before moving to Chicago, where she worked at the zoo and the aquarium from 1998 to 2000.

At the Shedd, she would don aquatic gear to help tend to ailing whales and dolphins. Dr. Kilbourn also was instrumental in putting together the Shedd's Amazon Rising exhibit, which takes visitors through a misty river-basin forest where piranhas, arowanas and other species peer through lush greenery.

At Lincoln Park Zoo, Dr. Kilbourn was known for her caring manner.

"A lot of times, you don't know what's wrong with an animal. She would go to the nth degree. She gave the same attention to a guinea pig that she would to a gorilla," said Robyn Barbiers, the zoo's general curator.

Earlier this year, Dr. Kilbourn's research pinpointed Ebola virus as the cause of a declining population of African gorillas.

For two years Dr. Kilbourn had been working with Chicago-based SOS Rhino, an organization trying to save Borneo's Sumatran rhino, which, with a population of below 300, is one of the most endangered of the three Asian rhino species.

In Borneo, Dr. Kilbourn helped track the shy animals, whose population is threatened by poaching. Along with doing research, she taught others to use technical tracking equipment.

"She was passionate about animals and passionate about people," said Dima Elissa, chairman of SOS Rhino.

Dr. Kilbourn trained to be a pilot, learned seven languages and loved to dance and eat sushi. She also was an accomplished artist with a collection of sketches and watercolors of orangutans.

"I loved her work and would drag people into her office to show it off," said Barbiers of Lincoln Park Zoo. "She would get embarrassed."

Along with her father, she is survived by her mother, Johanna, and a sister, Kirsten.

Celebrations of her life are planned for Friday at the Bronx Zoo in New York and for mid-December in Chicago.

Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune



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