Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn

Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn, V96
© K. Kilbourn

Veterinary alumna honored for environmental stewardship

Dr. Annelisa Kilbourn, V96, of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Field Veterinary Program, has been elected posthumously to the United Nations Environment Programme's Global 500 Roll of Honor for her exceptional work in protecting the environment. She is one of eight individuals and organizations to receive the honor in 2003.

Kilbourn died in a plane crash in Gabon in November 2002, while researching the link between the Ebola virus and western lowland gorillas.

After graduating from Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine in 1996, Kilbourn received a Wildlife Health Fellowship from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). She conducted the first research on the health of free-ranging orangutans in Sabah, Malaysia. Then she was accepted into a two-year postdoctoral program at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Kilbourn went on to join SOS Rhino and WCS, working to protect the last rhinos in Borneo. For WCS' Field Veterinary Program, she forged new ground with the lowland gorilla health program in central Africa, building 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, run on hand-held organizers, to facilitate standardized data and sample collection. This information instantly links all of the data to GIS maps to show the critical distribution of health problems for gorillas and people.

Kilbourn's training of field teams allowed her to lead investigations into last year's deadly Ebola virus outbreak, and her work in the field produced the first proof that gorillas are infected and quickly die of the virus—information that may serve to protect both gorillas and humans.

"The winners of the Global 500 Roll of Honor are members of a broad environmental movement that is flourishing around the world. They have taken the path that most of us hesitate to take for want of time or caring," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "In honoring the Global 500 laureates, UNEP hopes that others will be inspired by their extraordinary deeds."

Toepfer presented the award to Kilbourn's mother and sister June 5 in Beirut, Lebanon, at ceremonies marking World Environment Day. Since the inception of the award in 1987, 735 individuals and organizations have been honored with the Global 500 award. Past winners include French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, Sir David Attenborough, producer of environmental television programs, President Jimmy Carter, and Jane Goodall.