Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn
"International" and "wildlife conservation" were consistent themes throughout the life of Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn who tragically died in a plane crash in Gavon, in November 2002, whilst working on her research into the Ebola virus and western lowland gorillas. With a multi-national background and upbringing in Europe and the United States and years of work in Africa and Southeast Asia, her fluency in seven languages was just one of her many talents.
Upon graduation from veterinary school at Tufts University in the United States, Dr. Kilbourn received the Wildlife Health Fellowship from the Field Vet Programme of the Wildlife Conservation Socity (WCS). She conducted the first research on the health of free ranging orangutans in Sabah, Malaysia, helped to train local counterparts, and assisted the government in the translocation of orangutans and elephants to safe havens.
Following this, she was accepted in a two-year joint post-doctyoral programme at Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Excelling at her work, she was offered a permanent position at the Shedd Aquarim where she remained until accepting simultaneous opportunities with both SOS Rhino and WCS.
For SOS Rhino, she took on the task of helping to protect the last remaining rhinos in Borneo. If there is any hope left for the survival of the rhino in Borneo, much of it is due to Dr. Kilbourn's tireless and successful efforts to bring all of the stakeholders to the same table and help to implement a plan on the ground.
For WCS's Field Veterinary Programme, she forged new ground with the lowland gorilla health programme in Central Africa. She quickly built trust and working relationships with local people, researchers, park managers and government officials at six sites in three countries. She programmed customized software in French, runing on hand-held organizers, to facilitate standardized data and sample collection by potentially hundreds of people. This information instantly links all of the data to GIS maps to show the critical distribution of health problems for gorillas and people.
Dr. Kilbourn's training of field teams allowed her to lead investigations into last year's deadly Ebola Virus outbreak, and her work in the filed produced the first proof that gorillas are infected and quickly die of the virus -- information which may serve to protect both gorillas and humans. Dr. Kilbourn did not agree with the pragmatist's notion that we have to make choices between people and animals. She was commmitted to working twice as hard and doing whatever necessary to benefit both.
Dr. Kilbourn worked some 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Once when encouraged to take a short vacation, Annelisa answered, "Why? I'm on vacation every day."