The Wall of the Dead: A Memorial to Fallen Naturalists
Posted by Richard Conniff on January 14, 2011
We go to great lengths commemorating soldiers who have died fighting wars for their countries. Why not do the same for the naturalists who still sometimes give up everything in the effort to understand life? Neither would diminish the sacrifice of the other. In fact, many early naturalists were also soldiers, or, like Charles Darwin aboard HMS Beagle, were embedded with military expeditions.
With that in mind, I started to construct a very preliminary Naturalists’ Wall of the Dead, to at least assemble the names in one place, as I was researching my book The Species Seekers. If I have missed someone, or made other mistakes, please suggest changes in the comments. I am trying to focus on naturalists who died in the course of their work. Though he may have acquired Chagas disease in his travels, for instance, Darwin died at home, age 73, of unknown causes, and so does not really fit this list. (It will help me get names up faster if you could please include dates and links to additional sources in roughly the format below. Photos also welcome.)
If you want to link to this list on Twitter or elsewhere, the Tiny URL is http://tiny.cc/jxsyi I’ll also post a notice on Twitter if I have to add new names. You can follow me @RichardConniff. And please be careful out there, so you do not become one of the names I have to add. Thank you.
Aaronsohn, Aaron (1876 -1919), botanist who discovered wild emmer, “the mother of wheat.” He was also the founder and head of Nili, the Jewish spy network that provided critical aid to British troops in Palestine during World War I. The brilliant military campaign led by Field Marshall Edmund Allenby might have seemed to outsiders to take unwarranted risks, the chief of British military intelligence later said, but “That is not true. For Allenby knew with certainty from his intelligence [in Palestine] of all the preparations and all the movements of his enemy … Under these conditions, victory was certain before he began.” Aaronsohn died, age 43, in a plane crash on route to Britain after the war.
Abe, Katsumi (c.1953-1998), Japanese researcher of the evolution and behavior of planktonic bioluminescent ostracodes (minute crustaceans known in Japan as “marine fireflies”), died, in his mid-4os, driving home late from a conference.
Abramchuk, Siarhei (1984-2010), promising young Belarusian ornithologist, of encephalitis, age 26, after a tick bite in the national park Belavezhskaya pushcha, Belarus.
Adamson, Joy (1910–1980), a naturalist, artist, and author best known for the book and movie Born Free, found murdered, age 69, in her camp on Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, by a former employee.
Adamson, George (1906 –1989), British wildlife conservationist and author best known through the book and movie Born Free, shot dead, age 83, in Kenya’s Kora National Park by Somali bandits.
Akeley, Carl (1864–1926), naturalist-taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History, age 62, while collecting mammals in the eastern Congo, of dysentery.
Alberico, Michael S. (1947-2005), American mammalogist, namesake of Alberico’s broad-nosed bat, died, age 58, in a robbery as he was getting into taxicab in Cali, Colombia, immediately after taking money out of an ATM.
Alexander, Capt. Boyd (1873–1910), explorer and ornithologist, age 37, murdered in what is now Chad.
Anchieta, José Alberto de Oliveira (1832-1897) was a Portugese naturalist and collector who traveled widely in Angola and Mozambique. He died, age 66, probably from chronic malaria, when returning from an expedition to the Caconda region of Angola. He was responsible for identifying 25 new species of mammals, 46 of birds and 46 of amphibians and reptiles. Three birds, seven reptiles and four mammals are named after him.
Anderson, James D. (1930-1976), herpetologist and taxonomist at Rutgers University who described several snake and salamander species, died, age 46, in a car accident on a field trip to study bog turtles. The species Ambystoma andersoni, which he discovered in Mexico, was named in his honor.
Anderson, William (1750–1778), surgeon-naturalist on Cook’s second and third voyages, at sea, age 28, possibly from scurvy.
Archambault, Noel (19??-1998), IMAX cameraman, died, age unknown, in an ultralight accident while filming in the Galapagos.
Arenas, Miguel Ángel Soto (1963–2009), a Mexican orchid specialist who described many new species and was an outspoken conservationist, assassinated while working at home late one night, age 46.
Artedi, Peter (1705-1735), Swedish “father of icthyology,” drowned, age 30, in Amsterdam, where he was cataloging the vast natural history specimen collection of Albertus Seba. Artedi is the subject of a recent biography, The Curious Death of Peter Artedi, by Theodore W. Pietsch
Banister, John(1650–1692), British naturalist and clergyman, shot “per misadventure ,” age 42, when he bent over to pick a plant while exploring in Virginia.
Barbadillo, Pablo (1984-2008), a young Spanish biologist doing his doctoral dissertation field work on large reptiles and how humans interacted with them in Amazonian Peru. He was based at the Los Amigos Biological Station (CICRA)in the Madre de Dios department, when he traveled to a small town upriver on the Madre de Dios and did not return, age 23. Police found his body in an advanced state of decay, cause of death unknown.
Barthelt, Annette (1963-1987), marine biologist from the University of Kiel in Germany, killed, age 24, with a large group of others in a terrorist attack in Djibouti while waiting to board a three-month expedition of the German research vessel Meteor in the Indian Ocean.
Bassignani, Filippo (1967?-2006), Italian zoologist and lover of travel, large mammals, and the conservation of nature, died age 39, on a trip to Mozambique, after being charged by an elephant that had been wounded by poachers.
Batty, Joseph H. (18??–1906), taxidermist and specimen hunter recently accused of fraudulent practices, “killed instantly by the accidental discharge of his gun,” age unknown, in Mexico.
Beaulieu, Ryan (1987-2005) pioneered the banding and research program for rosy finches in New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, killed, age 18, in an automobile accident while on a birding trip.
Bečvář, Stanislav (1938-1997), Czech entomologist, shot dead, age 59, by soldiers in Laos while collecting beetles. Here’s a detailed account of the incident. His son of the same name, also an entomologist, was seriously wounded in the attack but survived and continues to do field work.
Berlandier, Jean Louis (1805–1851) was a French botanist, who worked as a collector in Mexico. He drowned, age 46, while trying to cross the San Fernando River. A reptile, an amphibian, two mammals and a bird are named after him.
Bernstein, Heinrich Agathon (1828–1865), German physician and collector of birds and mammals, age 36, on the island of Batanta off New Guinea, cause unknown.
Biermann, Adolph(?–1880), curator of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, survived attack by tiger while walking in garden but succumbed a year later, age unknown, to cholera.
Black, George (1916-1957), a U.S.-born botanist and explorer of the Amazon, drowned during an expedition.
Boerlage, Jacob Gijsbert (1849–1900), Dutch botanist on his 51st birthday, on a botanical expedition to the Moluccas to identify plants described by Rumphius, cause unknown.
Böhm, Richard (1854-1884), a German zoologist and former student of Ernst Haeckel, traveled extensively in East Africa, where he died, age 30, of a fever. Three mammals and five birds are named after him.
Boie, Heinrich (1794–1827), German ornithologist, age 33, of “gall fever,” in Java, one of a long succession of naturalists to die in the service of the Dutch Natural History Commission to the East Indies.
Bossuyt, Francis J. (1970-2000), University of California at Davis animal behaviorist, disappeared while bathing in the lake at Cocha Cashua Biological Station in Peru, age 30. Colleagues found only his shoes and towel on the dock; he was possibly taken by a caiman. Bossuyt’s father, an engineer, had died four years earlier in the TWA flight 800 crash.
Bowman, David (1838–1868), Scottish plant collector, robbed of his specimens in Colombia and said to have died of “mortification,” but more likely from dysentery, age 30, in Bogota.
Brodsky, Otakar (19??- 1986), Czech coleopterist, died of a heart attack, age unknown, while collecting Cleridae beetles in a rainforest in Vietnam. He was reportedly seated under a tree with his collecting equipment in his hands, and his colleagues didn’t immediately realize he was dead.
Brunete, José (17??-1787), one of the two botanical artists on the Spanish Expedición Botánica of 1777-1788 to South America. He died from a fall from his burro, age unknown, in Pasco, Peru.
Bupathy, Subramanian (1961-2014), herpetologist and head of conservation biology at India’s Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, died, age 53, after a fall and a 13-hour ordeal being carried down to help, with a bamboo spike in his left eye. Madhusudan Katti, a colleague, commented, “He went out in action, in the field surveying for reptiles, just across the Agasthyamalai mountain in whose rain shadow I spent my formative years chasing leaf warblers. Never thought about the risks of simple slip down a slope. Just unbelievable that Bhupathy lost his life in such a horribly random fashion. He’s survived by his wife and two teenaged children.”
Buchalla, Marco (1959-1987), marine biologist from the University of Kiel in Germany, killed, age 28, with a large group of others in a terrorist attack in Djibouti while waiting to board a three-month expedition of the German research vessel Meteor in the Indian Ocean.
Budden, Keith Clifford (1930-1950) was an Australian herpetologist who set out to collect a live specimen of the highly venomous and aggressive Taipan snake, Oxyuranus scutellatus. He caught it in his bare hands. As he was trying to put it in a bag, it slipped from his grasp and bit him. He died the next day, but that snake was the first member of the species caught alive and it was used in the search for an antivenin.
Buddingh, Johan Adriaan (1840–1870), Dutch civil servant and amateur collector for the Leiden Museum, age 30, in Batavia (Jakarta), Java, cause unknown.
Burchell, Jonathan Edward (1973-2003), American bush pilot for the Laikipia Predator Project , died age 30, in a light aircraft accident, while radio tracking lions for near Nanyuki, Kenya.
Cahoon, John Cyrus (1863–1891), American ornithologist and field naturalist, fell off a sea cliff, age 28, in Newfoundland.
Caraza, Filberto Muñoz (19??-2002), assistant research scientist in Cuzco, Peru, for the Missouri Botanical Garden, died, age unknown, in a fall from a cliff when he was attempting to collect an orchid specimen. The species Bomarea filibertii is named in his honor.
Cardoso, Adão J. (1951-1997), herpetologist at Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) in São Paulo, died, age 46, in a car accident on a field trip.
Carr, Cedric E. (1892-1936), New Zealand-born specialist in orchids, he collected in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and New Guinea, where he came down with blackwater fever and died, age 44. Among the species named for him: Acriopis carrii, Calanthe carrii, Kuhlhasseltia carrii, and Malaxis carrii.
Cassin, John(1813–1869), American ornithologist who described 198 new species, age 55, apparently of accidental arsenic poisoning, from his work preserving specimens.
Chabot, Valerie A. (1962 – 1994), a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ornithologist, was attempting to band a peregrine falcon in Alaska when she fell 75 feet and died, age 31.
Chang, Fonchii (1963-1999), ichthyologist, drowned, age 36, along with her motorista in a boat accident near Lake Rimachi, Peru. She was wearing rubber boots, which filled with water and anchored her to the bottom. He was shocked by an electric eel, knocked unconscious, and drowned.
Charcot, Jean Baptiste Auguste Étienne (1867–1936), French neurologist, malacologist, polar explorer, and oceanographer. Abandoned study of medicine after his physician father died. Drowned, age 69, when his vessel (the Pourqoui Pas?) capsized while on a polar survey off Greenland.
Cheng, Yu-Pin (1966-2009), a botanist and ecologist at Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, died, age 43, in a car accident on his field trip to collect a rare Fagaceae (or beech family) species in Pingtung County, Taiwan.
Chillcott, James G.T. (1929-1967), a Canadian entomologist specializing in flies, died of a heart attack, age 37, near Kathmandu, Nepal.
Co, Leonardo (1953-2010). Filipino botanist, age 56, shot down with two assistants in what the military claimed was a gun battle with rebel forces, while collecting seedlings of endangered trees for replanting.
Coelho, Elias Pacheco (1950-1987), a marine biologist at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, he later switched to the study of sea birds. He was climbing a sea cliff on the island of Cabo Frio to investigate some bird nests when he fell to his death, age 37. Oddly, his colleagues named the Rio de Janeiro spiny rat in his honor, Trinomys eliasi.
Collins, Joseph (1938-2012), herpetologist at the University of Kansas, founder of the Center for North American Herpetology, co-author of a Peterson Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, he died, age 72, of a heart attack while on a collecting trip in Florida.
Cook, Capt. James (1728-1779), British naval commander of three expeditions around the world, sometimes a reluctant naturalist (as when he spent a day plying back and forth in heavy weather in the Strait of Le Maire while Banks and Solander botanized onshore), but he made possible some of the pioneering species collections in the great age of discovery. Killed, age 50, in a confrontation on the beach in Hawaii.
Cousteau, Philippe (1940–1979), French oceanographer, diver, and filmmaker, second son of Jacques-Yves and Simone Cousteau, author of Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea, died, age 38, when his PBY Catalina flying boat crashed in the Tagus River near Lisbon.
Cox, Jack H. (1952-2010), crocodile specialist, died, age 58, from cerebral malaria, in Laos.
Cralitz, H.(?–1637), German physician and naturalist on a Dutch West Indies Company expedition, soon after arrival in Brazil, cause unknown.
Craven, Ian(1962–1993), ornithologist, age 31, plane crash in Irian Jaya.
Darling, Samuel Taylor (1872-1925), “Darling of Panama,” U.S. medical entomologist and member of the League of Nations Malaria commission killed, age 53, in the same car accident with Norman Lothian in Beirut, while researching malaria mosquito epidemiology in the Middle East. The Lothian Scholarship and Darling Prize for malaria research were created in their honor.
Dawson, Elmer Yale(1918–1966), Smithsonian Institution phycologist, age 48, drowned while diving for seaweeds in the Red Sea.
Défago,Gérard (?-1942), Swiss entomologist working with Karl Roos on DDT. Both died, ages unknown, in an unexplained car crash near Heidelberg, Germany. The Swiss chemical company Geigy, which would eventually sell DDT to both sides in the war, had apparently sent them on a clandestine mission to inform the Nazi government of their research. The Germans hoped to use DDT against the potato beetle, which they apparently feared the Allies would employ as a weapon of biological warfare. One theory is that the visiting Swiss scientists learned something that day about Germany’s own plans for biological warfare.
de Filippi, Filippo (1814 – 1867), an Italian doctor, traveler, and zoologist, set out in 1866 on a government-sponsored scientific voyage to circumnavigate the globe, died, age 53, in Hong Kong from dysentery, cholera, or liver problems, according to various accounts. But his assistant said simply that he“ fell, as a soldier on the field of battle, a victim to his love of Natural Science.” De Filippi’s Petrel (Pterodroma defilippiana) is named in his honor.
Denno, Bob (1945–2008) influential entomologist, died of a heart attack, age 62, while collecting butterflies in Georgia. Asked the point was of all his hard work on ecology, Denno once said it was “because of the jazz. The ‘jazz’ is “when you figure something out, when you discover one small part of how life works on this planet.”
Devaney, Dennis M. (1938-1983) an invertebrate zoologist at Bishop Museum specializing in ophiuroids, disappeared, age 45, on a dive collecting trip at north end of the island of Hawaii. Several species and the genus Devania are named for him.
Dodson, Stanley (1944-2009) , a University of Wisconsin freshwater ecologist who focused on zooplankton, community ecology, and population ecology of Daphnia, died, age 65, following a bicycle accident in Colorado.
Doherty, William(1857–1901), American lepidopterist and specimen hunter for Walter Rothschild, of dysentery, age 44, in Kenya’s Aberdare Mountains.
Dalton (or Dorlton), George (17??-1769), a black servant and specimen collector for botanist Joseph Banks aboard Capt. Cook’s HMS Endeavour, he was frozen to death, age unknown, on Banks’s ill-considered collecting expedition in Tierra del Fuego.
Douglas, David(1799–1834), Scottish botanist and explorer, said to be the greatest plant collector ever, died age 35, on falling into a pit trap already occupied by a bull, in Hawaii.
DeGruy, Mike (1951-2012), a National Geographic cinematographer who introduced viewers to remarkable species and behaviors hidden beneath the sea, he died, age 60, in a helicopter crash while filming in Australia.
Dutreuil de Rhins, Jules Léon (1846–1894), French explorer, age 48, murdered in Eastern Tibet.
Drummond,Thomas (ca. 1790-1835), Scottish naturalist who collected 750 New World species of plants and 150 specimens of birds, had hoped to make a complete botanical survey of Texas, but died, about age 45, in Havana, Cuba, in March 1835, while making a collecting tour of that island, of unknown cause.
Eberhardt, Les (19??-1992), wildlife ecologist with the Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, killed, age unknown, in a plane crash in Yakima, Washington.
Eickwort, George Campbell (1949–1994), hymenopterist, age 45, car accident in Jamaica.
Epova, Nina (1920-1960), Russian botanist, drowned, age 40, during a river crossing in Khamar Daban Mountains. Her research led to the creation of Baikal Nature Reserve.
Evert, Erwin F. (1940 -2010), botanist in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, where he found five new species of plants, published Vascular Plants of the Greater Yellowstone Area: An Annotated Catalog and Atlas, died, age 70, in a “fatal encounter with a grizzly bear” while on his daily botanical walk in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming.
Farrer, Reginald John(1880 – 1920), a traveler and plant collector in Asia, particularly in the high mountains, published a number of books, although is best known for My Rock Garden, died, age 40, either of diptheria or alcohol poisoning, according to various reports, in the Minshan Mountains of Burma.
Field, Andrew M. (1955-1984), an ecologist, fell from a tree, age 29, while conducting canopy research in Venezuela.
Feilner, Sgt. John (?–1864), ornithologist, age unknown, surprised and killed by Sioux while collecting ahead of his U.S. Army expedition in the Dakotas.
Fitzner, Dick (1946-1992), wildlife ecologist with the Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, killed, age 47, in a plane crash while studying sage grouse for the Army in Yakima, Washington.
Fonseca, Rene Marcelo (1976–2004), Ecuadorian mammalogist, age 28, car accident.
Fornes, Abel (dates?), a self-taught Argentine mammalogist, died, age unknown, reportedly when his gas mask leaked as he was using hydrocyanic gas in a well to kill and collect bat specimens.
Forsskål, Pehr (1732–1763), Helsinki-born “apostle” of Linnaeus’s, age 31, of malaria in what is now Yemen. See also Christian Carl Kramer.
Fossey, Dian (1932-1985), leading primatologist and conservationist studying mountain gorillas, found murdered in her cabin, age 53, in the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda (case unsolved).
Franco, Robert (19??-2014), a political scientist who worked with the Amazon Conservation Team-Colombia to identify isolated tribes and protect their habitat, died when the Piper PA-31 Navajo crashed after takeoff from Araracuara in the department of Caquetá.
Franco-Rosselli, Maria del Pilar (1950-2000), Colombian botanist of the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, specializing in the genus Cecropia, who was electrocuted, age 50, when the pole she used for collecting plants hit an electric wire hidden in the vegetation.
Frost, Thomas M. (1950-2000), Univeristy of Wisconsin limnologist interested in ecosystems, plankton communities, rotifers, and freshwater sponges, died, age 50, in Lake Superior while saving his 9-year old son Eliot.
Gallman, Emanuelle (1966-1983), Italo-Kenyan self-taught herpetologist, died,a ge 17, from a puff adder bite at Ol Ari Nyiro.
Gaines, David (1947-1988) , birder in the Sierra Nevada, author of The Birds of the Yosemite and the East Slope, and the main impetus behind saving Mono Lake from SoCal’s unquenchable thirst. He died, age 41, in a car accident near Mono Lake. Here’s a good biography (but disregard the dates).
Gambel, William (1823–1849), American naturalist, namesake of Gambel’s quail, age 26, of typhoid fever in the Sierra Nevada.
Gentry, Al (1945–1993), botanist, age 48, killed in a plane crash in the mountains of Ecuador.
Gerhart, Nathaniel G. (1975-2007), conservationist and ornithologist who rediscovered the selva cacique (previously thought to be extinct), age 32, of a car accident while working on an NSF study in Indonesia. Here’s a link to some memories from family and friends.
Gibbins, Ernest Gerald (1900-1942), researcher on mosquitoes and black flies, speared to death, age 42. while he was investigating a yellow fever outbreak in Uganda. His attackers reportedly believed that the blood samples he was taking were intended for witchcraft purposes. An investigating policeman said that Gibbins’ body was “as full of spears as a bloody porcupine.” The mosquito Anopheles gibbinsi is named for him.
Gibbons, John R.H. (1946-1986), herpetologist, described several species of lizards in Fiji, including the spectacular Fiji Island iguana. Died, age 40, along with his entire family in a boating accident off the island of Lekeba.
Gilbert, John (1810?–1845), British naturalist and explorer, collected Australian mammals and birds for John Gould until killed by a spear, age 35, during a nighttime raid on his camp by Aborigines.
Goenaga, Carlos (19??-????), a coral researcher in Puerto Rico, died at 42 when a huge wave washed him off a rock, while he was searching for an elusive mollusk with his students.
Gomez, Margarita (1987-2011), Universidad de los Andes biology student murdered, age 23, by the ring leader of a drug gang while filming and photographing the biodiversity of area known as “La Camaronera,” in San Bernardo de Viento, in Cordoba, Columbia.
Grant, Harold J.(1921–1966), American entomologist, age 45, drowned on an expedition collecting grasshoppers in Trinidad.
Gregg, Josiah (1806-1850), author of Commerce of the Prairies (1844), merchant, plant collector, explorer, physician. An article about him reports: “Exhausted from vigorous travel, near-starvation, and continuous exposure to severe weather, Gregg died on February 25, 1850, as a result of a fall from his horse, and was buried” near Clear Lake in California.
Griffith, William(1810–1845), British botanist in India and Afghanistan, age 34, of malaria.
Grzimek, Michael (1934-1959), German zoologist and environmentalist, lost control of his plane on hitting a vulture in the Serengeti and died, age 24, in the crash.
Gurung, Chandra (19??-2006), WWF official, pioneer in sustainable development involving local people, killed, age unknown, in a helicopter crash that took the lives of 24 people, many of them World Wildlife Fund conservationists, in eastern Nepal.
Halberg, Hans-Wilhelm (1963-1987), marine biologist from the University of Kiel in Germany, killed, age 24, with a large group of others in a terrorist attack in Djibouti while waiting to board a three-month expedition of the German research vessel Meteor in the Indian Ocean.
Hamilton, Daniel (1990-2011), reptile biologist from Purdue University, died, age 21, of heat stroke while volunteering in the Cayman Islands.
Hamilton, W.D. (1936-2000), brilliant evolutionary theorist, after an expedition to war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, to study the origins of HIV, age 63, of multiple organ failure brought on by malaria.
Harrisson, Tom (1912–1976), British anthropologist and ornithologist, age 64, bus accident in Thailand.
Hasselquist, Fredric(1722–1752), Swedish “apostle” of Linnaeus’s, made extensive collections in the Middle East, died, age 30, near Smyrna, of tuberculosis.
Hasselt, Johann Coenraad van(1797–1823), Dutch ornithologist, age 26, of an unknown tropical illness in Java.
Helfer, Johann Wilhelm (1810–1840), Czech-born naturalist, murdered, age 29, by poison dart in the Andaman Islands.
Hemphill, Henry(1830–1914), American naturalist studying shells, age 84, of arsenic poisoning.
Hemprich, Wilhelm(1796–1825), surgeon in the Prussian army, naturalist, leader of a five-year expedition to Egypt and nearby countries, collecting 3000 plant and 4000 animal species, on which nine team members died, including Hemprich, age 28, probably of malaria, in Eritrea.
Hendee, Russell W.(1899–1929), mammalogist collecting for the Field Museum’s Kelley-Roosevelts Expedition, age 30, of malaria in Vientiane.
Hernandez-Camacho, Jorge Ignacio (1935-2002) authority on all things neotropical, died, age 67, from a heart attack while visiting a mangrove swamp near Cartagena, Colombia. The 3,850 hectare area was later protected and named in his honor Santuario de Fauna y Flora El Corochal “El Mono Hernandez” Several plant and animal species have also been named in honor of “Mono” or “El Sabio” Hernandez .
Hodgdon, Albion (1909-1976), a botanist who specialized in finding new locations of species in the state of New Hampshire. His death, age 65, resulted from injuries sustained in a head-on collision with a drunk driver, cutting short his life’s ambition to complete the flora of New Hampshire
Hoffmann, Ralph (1870-1932), botanist and ornithologist, director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, fell from a cliff on San Miguel Island, California while collecting plants, age 62.
Holden, Edith (1871-1920), British naturalist and illustrator, most famous for Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, fell into the River Thames at Kew and drowned, age 49, while collecting blossom from a horse chestnut tree for an illustration.
Hoshino, Michio (1952-1996), celebrated Japanese wildlife photographer, killed, age 44, when a brown bear attacked him in his tent, while he was on assignment in Kurilskoye Lake, Kamchatka, Russia. A faked photo of the attack circulated on the internet. A memorial totem pole to Hoshino was recently erected in Sitka, Alaska.
Hovore, Frank T. (1945-2006), coleopterist, age 61, on a collecting expedition in Ecuador, of a heart attack.
Hreblay, Márton (1963-2000), entomologist, killed in a car accident, age 37, while collecting Lepidoptera (Noctuidae) in northern Thailand.
Igag, Paul (1984-2010), New Guinea’s premiere ornithologist, known to his many students as “Uncle Paul,” made important discoveries about Palm Cockatoos and Vulturine Parrots that continue to guide conservation of these threatened species. He was recently featured in the Nature show “Birds of the Gods.” Igag died, age 46, of a heart attack.
Innes, H. Stuart (1953-2000), an arctic mammalogist, died in a helicopter crash, age 47, in the Canadian High Arctic while returning from a day spent tracking and tagging polar bears.
Irwin, Stephen Robert (1962–2006) Australian television personality, wildlife expert, and conservationist, co-discovered a turtle now named in his honor Elseya irwini, died, age 44, after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Jacquemont, Victor(1801–1832), French botanist in India, age 31, of dysentery or malaria.
Jussieu, Joseph de (1704–1779), doctor and botanist on the Geodesic Mission to the Equator (1735-1744), made the first scientific study of the cinchona (quinine) tree; at age 75, of mercury poisoning and infection.
Kakule, Safari (19??-2011), ranger working on gorilla protection on the Congo side of Virunga National Park, killed, age unknown, along with two other rangers and five soldiers, all so far unnamed, when rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade into their vehicle. More than 120 rangers have been killed over the past ten years because of the continuing war in the Congo. Further information welcome.
Kalko, Elisabeth (1962-2011), German tropical ecologist and bat specialist, died suddenly in her sleep, age 49, cause unknown, soon after arriving at a research station at the foot of Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. She was featured in the BBC series “Bat Women of Panama.”
Kaplanov, Lev (1910-1943), the first researcher of Siberian tiger biology in the wild, killed by poachers in Ussuriland.
Kaufmann, Rudolf (1909-1941), German paleontologist, made early contributions to the study of allopatric speciation, and was a pioneering thinker on punctuated equilibrium, persecuted by Nazi Germany for his Jewish heritage, shot, age 32?, by guards in Lithuania while trying to flee.
Kempff, Noel Mercado (1924-1986), Bolivian biologist, was scouting out a new national park in Santa Cruz department when his group landed at what they thought was an abandoned airstrip. It turned out to be a cocaine factory. He was murdered, age 62, and the national park was subsequently named for him.
Kennicott, Robert (1835–1866) American naturalist, member of the Megatherium Club at the Smithsonian Institution, died in the field, age 30, leading the Scientific Corps of the Russia-American (Western Union) Telegraphic Survey in Alaska.
Kielland, Jan (1923 – 1995), author of Butterflies of Tanzania, spent 50 years studying butterflies across Tanzania, described and published 144 taxa of Afrotropical butterflies. He was killed, age 72, when his car hit a stranded lorry in the dark on his way to get permits for a survey in southern Tanzania.
Kilbourn, Annelisa (1967-2002), Wildlife Conservation Society researcher studying the link between ebola virus and western lowland gorillas, died, age 35, when her small plane crashed in the Lope Nature Preserve in Gabon.
Kilham, Peter (1943-1989), University of Michigan professor and an expert in phytoplankton ecology and in the ecology of African lakes, who suddenly died, age 46, of a perforated ulcer during a research trip in Kenya.
Kingsley, Mary H. (1862–1900), British explorer, ichthyologist, age 37, of typhoid fever in South Africa.
Kirkaldy, George Willis (1873–1910), entomologist working on Hemipterans in Hawaii, known for coining generic names after supposed romantic interests (Elachisme–pronounced “kiss me”–Peggichisme, Polychisme, etc), hit by an automobile in Honolulu while riding a horse on the wrong side of the road and broke his leg. He was sent to California to have his leg reset and died, age 38, in the operating room.
Kirouac, Joseph Louis Conrad (1885-1944), known as Brother Marie-Victorin, founder of the Botanical Garden in Montréal, educator and author of a major Flora for the southern region of the Province of Québec, died in a car accident, age 58, on a plant collecting trip. Possibly related to author Jack Kerouac.
Kishinouye, Kamakichi (1867-1929), Japanese fisheries and corals biologist, died, age 61, of “some alimentary disorder” during an expedition collecting freshwater fishes in Sichuan Province, China. The death notice in Science described him, curiously, as “a good example of the courteous Japanese gentleman of the old school.”
Köenig, Johann Gerhard (1728–1785), Polish-born physician and student of Linnaeus who introduced the Linnaean system to India, age 57, cause unknown.
Koepcke, Maria (1924-1971), German-born neotropical ornithologist, curator at the Natural History Museum in Lima, wrote and illustrated Las Aves del Departamento de Lima ( The Birds of the Department of Lima), killed, age 47, in an airplane crash over Amazonia. She had been flying with her 17-year-old daughter, Juliane, to join husband and father Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke at a field station in Amazonia for the Christmas holiday. Juliane, the sole survivor of the crash, fell thousands of feet while still strapped to her chair, then managed to walk for 10 days, always following waterways downhill, as her parents had taught her to do if lost. Juliane, now a mammalogist, is the subject of a Werner Herzog film; her own memoir When I Fell From the Sky is being published in German, in March, 2011. Maria Koepcke has been honored by having three birds named in her honor: Koepcke’s Screech Owl, Koepcke’s Hermit, and the Selva Cacique (Cacicus koepckeae, see Gerhart, Nathaniel G.).
Kotaseao, Vickson (????-????),a research associate at the Wei Institute in Papua New Guinea and the first person to discover the larva of the jewel beetle genus Calodema, he was brutally murdered, age unknown, in an ambush while on duty at the Institute. The species Calodema vicksoni was named in his honor, and according to a note in the description, it also brought misfortune to the original collector: ” The holotype was captured by a native lady who found this specimen feeding on flowers near her house in the jungle in a very remote location in the Owen Stanley Range. She caught the beetle and gave it to her husband. Sadly enough, shortly afterwards she was bitten by a Papuan Blacksnake and died.”
Kramer, Christian Carl (1732-1764). Danish physician and zoologist on a quarrelsome and ill-fated multinational expedition to Arabia with Forsskål and others. He discovered and disclosed that one of the other scientists aboard, the ethnologist Christian von Haven, intended to murder them by arsenic poisoning and steal their funds. Of the five scientists, four died of other causes, among them Kramer, age 32, of fever (probably malaria), in Bombay. Only the young mapmaker Carl Niebhur survived, ostensibly thanks to his adoption of local habits and dress.
Kramer, Gustav(1910–1959), German ornithologist, was attempting to capture young rock doves from a nest when he lost his footing and fell to his death, age 49, in southern Italy.
Kuhl, Heinrich(1797–1821), German ornithologist, age 23, in Java, of an unknown tropical disease.
Lawson, John (1674-1711), British-born early naturalist in North America, burned at the stake, about age 37, by angry Indians near what is now Snow Hill, North Carolina. He wrote A New Voyage to Carolina.
Leitão Filho, Hermógenes de Freitas (1946-1996), Brazilian botanist of a heart attack during field research.
Leitner, Edward F. (1812–1838), German-born physician and botanist, collector for Audubon and Bachman, shot by Indians, age 26, near Jupiter Inlet, Florida.
Leopold, Aldo (1887-1948), father of wildlife ecology who helped found The Wildlife Society and the Wilderness Society, died of a heart attack, age 61, while battling a wildfire on his neighbor’s property.
Lockwood, Tom E. (1941-1975), botanist at the University of Illinois-Urbana, monographer of the genus Brugmansia, died, age 34, in an auto accident in Mexico during a field trip with students.
Löfling, Pehr (1729 – 1756), an “apostle” of Linnaeus, he was the first naturalist to make careful observations about the flora and fauna in Venezuela, and probably the first person to bring a microscope there. Linnaeus later published the Iter Hispanicum based on Löfling’s notes. He died on expedition there, probably of malaria or yellow fever.
Loftus-Hills, Jasper (1946?-1974) , a post-doc at the University of Michigan, from New Victoria, Australia, who died in a car accident, age 28, on a trip collecting frogs in Texas. Eleutherodactylus jasperi is named in his honor. A friend reports: “A pickup with two drunks decided to return and scare Jasper by driving very close at high rate of speed. He didn’t hear them because he was recording frogs at the time. They then drove off but were later arrested and sentenced to life in prison.”
Lothian, Norman Veitch (1889- 1925), Scottish medical entomologist with the League of Nations Malaria Commission‚ killed, age 35, in the same car accident with Samuel Darling in Beirut, while researching malaria mosquito epidemiology in the Middle East. The Lothian Scholarship and Darling Prize for malaria research were created in their honor.
Macklot, Heinrich(1799–1832), naturalist, was so enraged when insurgents burned down his house, with all of his collections, that he organized a revenge attack and was speared to death, age 33, in Java.
Maehr, David (1956-2008) ) conservation biologist at the University of Kentucky died, age 52, in a plane crash whole tracking radio collared black bears in Lake Placid, Florida.
Magraner, Jordi (1959-2002), Spanish zoologist, quit his position at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris to undertake independent research into the Barmanu, a hominid-like creature thought by local people to inhabit the remote Chitral Mountains of northwestern Pakistan. He was living among the marginalized Kalash people, who considered him their protector, and he ignored warnings by Pakistani officials to leave the area when the instability following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan spilled over to this area. He was murdered, age 43, along with his 12-year old assistant, by two of his former Afghan assistants, who slit his throat for reasons that remain unclear. He was buried by the Kalash in the local town of Bumburet.
Maness, Scott Jay (1948-1981), reptile biologist with the Peace Corps and then with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for whom he was working at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida when a lightning strike caused a wildfire there. He was working with crew member Beau Sauselein using a tractor and a fireplow to cut a fireline when the wind shifted, driving the fire toward them. As they attempted to move away, the tractor got caught on a stump. They tried to flee on foot but the thick palmetto grass blocked them and they were burned to death in the blaze. Maness was 32, Sauselein was 33.
Markgraf, Georg(1610–1644), German physician and naturalist celebrated for his work on a Dutch West Indies expedition to Brazil, but died, age 34, probably of malaria, in Angola(?). There is a detailed account of his life, though with an emphasis on astronomy here.
Marsh, Clive (1951-2000), field biologist instrumental in establishing the Tana River Primate Reserve in Kenya and the Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, age 49, from an encephalitis-related illness acquired during field work in Laos.
Martin, Shannon (1978-2001), a University of Kansas graduate student collecting fern specimens, stabbed to death in Costa Rica, age 23.
Maskey, Tirtha (1948-2006), one of the world’s leading experts on crocodiles and rhinoceroses, who had also discovered a new frog species, killed, age 58, in a helicopter crash that took the lives of 24 people, many of them World Wildlife Fund conservationists, in eastern Nepal.
Matapi, Daniel (19??-2014), an indigenous leader who worked with the Amazon Conservation Team-Colombia to identify isolated tribes and protect their habitat, died when the Piper PA-31 Navajo crashed after takeoff from Araracuara in the department of Caquetá.
Maxwell-Lefroy, Harold (1877–1925). British entomologist in India and a professor of entomology at the Imperial College in South Kensington, London, died, age 48, from the effects of a lethal gas with which he was experimenting for use as an insecticide.
McKay, Charles Leslie (1855-1883), Wisconsin-born naturalist who collected in Alaska for the Smithsonian’s Spencer Fullerton Baird. McKay discovered McKay’s Bunting in 1882. He died the following year, age 28, in suspicious circumstances on a solo canoe trip. His body was never recovered.
Meneses, Elias (19??-1979), botanist, about age 50, of malaria contracted in Pando Department (Bolivia) while collecting tree specimens.
Mertens, Robert (1894-1975), herpetologist, specialized in lizards, particularly island and tropical species, namesake of Mertensian mimicry, a rare form in which a deadly species mimics a less dangerous one, died, age 81, of a twig snake bite.
Messier, Jeanne (1966-1993), a UC-San Diego graduate biology student, she lived in a cabin infested with rodents while studying birds at California’s Valentine Ecological Reserve, died, age 27, of hantavirus.
Meyer, Frank N. (1875–1918), American plant explorer, made four expeditions to China. Heading homeward down the Yangtze River at a time of political turmoil, he disappeared, age 43, from his ship and his body was recovered a week later.
Michaud, Luigi (1973?-2014), a University of Messina research fellow seeking new antibiotics for cystic fibrosis, he died, age 40, in a diving accident in Antarctica while collecting marine bacteria.
Michaux, Andre (1746-1802) French botanist, wrote the first book on trees of North America, also explored in England, France, and Persia, lost notes and specimens in an 1801 shipwreck off Holland, and died the following year in Madagascar, age 56, of tropical fever.
Miller, Waldron DeWitt (1879-1929), ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, killed in a motorcycle accident just before completing a full account of the birds of Nicaragua. See this note for the series of tragedies that afflicted the course of ornithology in Nicaragua
Monteiro, Luis R. (19??-1999), a leading seabird expert from the University of the Azores, died in a helicopter crash while pursuing his research, age unknown. Monteiro’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma monteiroi) is named in his memory.
Moorcroft, William(1765–1825), British veterinary surgeon and plant-collector in Tibet and Kashmir, also reputed to be a secret agent, age 60, murdered in Afghanistan.
Mora, Jairo (1987-2013), a marine turtle conservationist, age 26, he was kidnapped while patrolling leatherback turtle nesting sites on a beach in Limon, Costa Rica. His kidnappers, who were apparently raiding nests to sell the eggs, tied up the four volunteers working with Mora. Then they took him away, tied his hands behind his back, beat him, dragged him behind his vehicle, and finally shot him in the head.
Miyata, Ken (1951-1983) an expert on diversity in lizards who traveled frequently in South America, but fell victim to his passion for fly-fishing. He drowned, age 32, while angling alone on the Big Horn River in Wyoming.
Muncus-Nagy, Mihai (1978-2012), a Romanian conservationist, he volunteered to work protecting native species on New Zealand’s remote Raoul Island, where he vanished, age 33, in an apparent drowning.
Mys, Benoit (1960-1989), a Belgian Phd student, was doing fieldwork for his PhD thesis on the zoogeography of the skink fauna of northern Papua New Guinea, when he was killed, age 28, in a vehicle accident on the north coast highway. An expedition in his footsteps is planned for spring of 2014, to find some of the new snake species he discovered.
Nakano, Shigeru (1962-2000), aquatic ecologist studying food webs, died age 38, in Baja California on the same boat accident that killed the scorpion ecologist Gary Polis.
Nathan, Anjeli (1975-1999) killed, age 24, in a car accident in South Africa, where she was studying meerkats.
Natterer, Johann (1787–1843), Vienna-born zoologist, survived 18 years collecting in Brazil, but died at home, age 56, of pulmonary hemorrhage, while working up his extensive collection.
Neme, Matthew Matamala (1984-2011), Universidad de los Andes biology student murdered, age 26, by the ring leader of a drug gang while filming and photographing the biodiversity of area known as “La Camaronera,” in San Bernardo de Viento, in Cordoba, Columbia.
Nevermann. William Heinrich (1881-1938), entomologist, killed, age 57, while hunting ants by lantern with a colleague at night in Costa Rica. He was shot by a neighbor who thought the lights of the two lanterns were the eyes of a puma. (Obituary by Anon. 1938, Entomological News 49: 239-240.
Nikolaenko. Vitaly (1938-2003), zoologist at Kronotsky Nature Reserve, Kamchatka, and a world-famous nature photographer, killed, age 66, by a brown bear. He had conducted the investigation of the death by a brown bear of Michio Honshino.
Northrop, Alice Rich (1864‒1922) and Northrop, John Isaiah (1861‒1891) were a married couple. She taught botany at Hunter College, he taught botany and zoology at Columbia University. Soon after their marriage in 1889, they spent seven months in the Bahamas collecting animal, plant and mineral specimens, then the most extensive natural history survey undertaken there. John died in a laboratory explosion in 1891, age 30, just two weeks before the birth of their only child. When Alice later finished her analysis of the botanical material from the Bahamas expedition, she found she had discovered 18 new species. A Naturalist in the Bahamas (1910) was a collection of John’s and Alice’s papers, edited by Henry Fairfield Osborn, and published under the names of Osborn and John (but, oddly, not Alice) Northrop. She continued to travel widely in the Americas with their son, John Howard Northrop (1891‒1987), who would later win a Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1946). Alice Northrop was working to establish a nature camp in Massachusetts when she died, age 56, after her car stalled on a level crossing and was hit by a train
Nove, Josh (1974?-1997), a birder from Ipswich, MA, was volunteering on a migratory bird study on Goose Lake in the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge when he stepped into deep water and drowned, age 23 (?), while banding birds.
Ooi, Inn-Siang (1962-1986) a PhD student in botany at University of Miami from Malaysia, died, age 24, of stings from Africanized honey bees during an Organization for Tropical Studies field course in Costa Rica. He became stuck in a crevice and when his body was retrieved, he had sustained 8000 stings.
Oort, Pieter van(1804–1834), artist who made numerous illustrations of landscapes, people, animals, and plants for the Dutch Natural History Commission in the East Indies, age 30, in Sumatra, of malaria.
Ortiz-Crespo, Fernando (1942-2001), Ecuadorian ornithologist who died in a boating accident, age 59, while studying birds on an Andean lake.
Ortiz, Patricia (1973-2013), ant biologist from Ecuador, killed by falling rocks, age 40, while working with students at a waterfall in Costa Rica. University of Utah myrmecologist John Longino recently named a new species from Monteverde Cloud Forest, where she had worked, after Ortiz, calling her “a brilliant naturalist whose untimely death saddened the Monteverde community.”
Pambu (dates unknown), a Lepcha collector working with William Doherty, “murdered by the savages” in Papua New Guinea.
Parkinson, Sydney (1745–1771), artist on Cook’s Endeavour, at sea, age 26, of dysentery.
Peale, Raphaelle (1774–1825), American artist and naturalist, age 51, of arsenic and mercury poisoning from his taxidermy work in the family museum.
Plee, August (1787-1825), an explorer naturalist for the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, he died, age 38, from an unknown sickness in Martinique, after sending botanical specimens back to France.
Pliny The Elder, Gaius (23-79 A.D.), Roman naturalist, author of the encyclopedic (though sometimes highly imaginary) Historia Naturalis, died, age 56, supposedly of toxic fumes, when scientific curiosity caused him to get too close during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Plowman, Timothy (1944-1989), eminent Amazonian ethnobotanist for the Field Museum in Chicago, died of AIDS, age 45, reportedly as a result a dirty needle used in mandatory “pre-trip inoculations” for yellow fever, at the border of Venezuela or Peru.
Polis, Gary (1946-2000), University of California at Davis scorpion researcher, drowned, age 53, with three others, when their small boat was caught in a storm during an expedition on the Sea of Cortez.
Posa Bohome, Claudio (1965-2010), a botanist at the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial, he became acutely ill while on a biodiversity expedition to the Gran Caldera de Luba, in the remote southern part of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, and died, age 44, soon after being evacuated to hospital.
Poudel, Narayan (1953-2006), former national park manager, recently amed head of Nepal’s wildlife and national parks department, killed, age 53, in a helicopter crash that took the lives of 24 people, many of them World Wildlife Fund conservationists, in eastern Nepal.
Prahl, Henry von (1948-1989), an expert on marine crustaceans, mangroves and coral reefs, was killed, age 41,when the plane in which he was traveling from Bogota to Cali was destroyed by a bomb. Pablo Escobar of the Medellín drug cartel had been attempting to kill presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo. Gaviria missed the flight and served as president from 1990-1993.
Przhevalsky, Nikolai Mikhaylovich (1839–1888), Polish-Russian explorer, discoverer of only wild horse species, of typhus, age 49, in Kyrgyzstan.
Raalten, Gerrit van (1797–1829), Dutch artist with naturalists in Java, survived a rhino attack but succumbed, age 32, to fever.
Raddi, Giuseppe(1770–1829), Italian botanist, herpetologist in Brazil, age 59, of dysentery at Rhodes, during an expedition to the Nile.
Raim, Arlo (1943-2010), a legendary birder for the Illinois Natural History Survey, hit by train and killed, age 67, while monitoring the effect of increased train traffic on cardinals in a DuPage County forest preserve. “He was a bit eccentric,” said a co-worker, “but a very kind and committed person to nature and to understanding nature.”
Ramsay, Malcolm (1949-2000), an evolutionary ecologist and naturalist, died in a helicopter crash, age 51, in the Canadian High Arctic while returning from a day spent tracking and tagging polar bears.
Rawlinson, Peter (1943-1991), an Australian herpetologist who described several new species of reptiles, he was also a vigorous environmental campaigner. He died, age 48, from heat exhaustion while engaged in fieldwork on the island of Anak Krakatau, Indonesia. The Peter Rawlinson Conservation Award, named in his honor, now acknowledges outstanding contributions to conservation in Australia. Two skinks are also named for him: Ctenotus rawlinsoni (Ingram 1979) and Pseudemoia rawlinsoni (Hutchinson and Donnellan 1988).
Reimer, Daryl (19??-1992), prominent Queensland seabird scientist who disappeared at sea, age unknown, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia, while surveying remote seabird islands.
Richmond, Thomas (17??-1769), a black servant and specimen collector for botanist Joseph Banks aboard Capt. Cook’s HMS Endeavour, he was frozen to death, age unknown, on Banks’s ill-considered collecting expedition in Tierra del Fuego.
Ricketts, Edward F. (1897-1948), marine biologist, author of Between Pacific Tides, killed, age 50, by a train at an intersection in Monterey, California.
Riley, Charles Valentine (1843-1895), one of the greatest North American entomologists, “the father of biological control,” died in a bicycle accident, age 52.
Roberts, J. Austin (1883‒1948) was the most prominent ornithologist in southern Africa during the first half of the twentieth century. In four decades working at the Transvaal Museum, he amassed 30,000 bird skins and 9,000 mammal specimens there. He died, age 65, in a traffic accident in the Transkei region. Roberts is best remembered for his Birds of South Africa (1940), a landmark publication in African ornithology which has developed in size and authority with repeated posthumous editions. His Mammals or South Africa (1951) was published posthumously. The Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary was established in his hometown, Pretoria (1958).
Robinson, Charles Budd (1871-1913), a botanist, murdered, age 42, “in self-defense” by people who mistook him for a ghoul intent on decapitating people, while collecting plants on Ambon in what is now eastern Indonesia. (The ghoul defense may sound unlikely. But other European explorers–Wallace, Du Chaillu, Cuming–also reported that terrified locals sometimes mistook them for ghosts on account of their unnaturally pale skin. The tendency of naturalists to work late into the night preserving specimens–cadavers–by candlelight may have compounded this impression of ghoulishness. The one jarring detail is that Ambon had been comfortably tolerating the habits of naturalists since Rumphius arrived there in the 1650s.) A biographical note is at p. 191 here.
Rodríguez De la Fuente, Félix (1928-1980), celebrated Spanish broadcaster and naturalist, died, age 52, in a plane crash on assignment in Alaska.
Roepstorff, Frederik Adolph de (1842 – 1883), entomologist, ornithologist and anthropologist, shot dead, age 41, in the Andaman Islands
Rogers, Erick Joseph (1982-2005), a Texas A&M field technician, was working on a study of the crabs eaten by whooping cranes at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, when his boat drifted away from the research site. Rogers attempted to swim for it, but in the 48 degree Fahrenheit water, he soon lost control and drowned, age 23.
Roos, Karl (?-1942), Swiss entomologist working with Gérard Défago on DDT. Both died, ages unknown, in an unexplained car crash near Heidelberg, Germany. The Swiss chemical company Geigy, which would eventually sell DDT to both sides in the war, had apparently sent them on a clandestine mission to inform the Nazi government of their research. The Germans hoped to use DDT against the potato beetle, which they apparently feared the Allies would employ as a weapon of biological warfare. One theory is that the visiting Swiss scientists learned something that day about Germany’s own plans for biological warfare.
Root, Joan (1936-2006), conservationist and activist on Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, murdered at her home there, age 69, by four men armed with AK-47s; the crime remains unsolved.
Rose, Michael (1972-2000) , post-doctoral researcher and ecologist at the University of California at Davis, drowned, age 27, with three others, when their small boat was caught in a storm during an expedition on the Sea of Cortez.
Ross, Ian (1958-2003), wildlife biologist, died age 44, in a light aircraft accident, with his pilot, Jonathan Edgar Burchell, while radio tracking lions for the Laikipia Predator Project near Nanyuki, Kenya.
Rowley, J. Stuart (1907-1968), ornithologist and vertebrate specimen collector for various museums wrote an account of breeding birds of the Sierra Madre del Sur, Oaxaca, Mexico, and died there, age 61, either in an accidental fall from a cliff or by murder.
Ruschi, Augusto (1915-86), renowned naturalist at Brazil’s National Museum, died from the cumulated effects of malaria, hepatitis, schistosomiasis and, after years of harrowing agony, fatal poisoning, at age 71, from contact with a Dendrobates toad. Throughout his active years, Ruschi fiercely denounced corrupt officials who allowed eco-vandalism in the Amazon.
Ruspoli, Prince Eugenio (1866-1893), Italian explorer, gave his name to one of world’s most beautiful and rare birds, the Ethiopian endemic Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, whose first specimen was found in the prince’s hunting bag after he was trampled to death, age 27, by an angry elephant.
San Miguel, Michael (1939-2010), birder and conservationist, died, age 70, when he fell down a cliff, while conducting an owl survey in the San Gabriel Mountains. Remembered here, by another great California ornithologist, Kimball Garrett.
Sankaran, Ravi (1963- 2009) ornithologist, field biologist and director of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History, died, age 45, of a heart attack. His work on the Indian edible-nest Swiftlet provided crucial insights for conservation of this species and he was deeply involved in developing community-based conservation efforts, including sustainable harvesting of these birds’ nests.
Schibli, Leo (1958-2004) of SERBO in Oaxaca involved with scores of botanical field trips to survey the flora of Oaxaca and consequently discovered several new species of plants including cycads and orchids, died of a heart attack, age of 46.
Shannon, Frederick A. (1921–1965), American physician and herpetologist, died, age 44, from the bite of a Mojave rattlesnake that he was attempting to catch. A brush lizard is named in his honor Urosaurus graciosus shannoni.
Schlagintweit, Adolf (1829–1857), one of five German brothers who became naturalists and explorers, beheaded as a spy, age 28, in Kashgar.
Schmidt, Daniel Rein (1959-1987), marine biologist from the University of Kiel in Germany, killed, age 28, with a large group of others in a terrorist attack in Djibouti while waiting to board a three-month expedition of the German research vessel Meteor in the Indian Ocean.
Schmidt, Karl Patterson (1890-1957), herpetologist in Chicago, died, age 67 of a boomslang bite, after making detailed notes on his developing symptoms. Gregory C. Meyer writes that a death scene in the B-movie classic “The Killer Shrews” was based on the incident.
Schopf, Tom (1940-1984), a specialist in marine fossils and founder of the journal Paleobiology, died of a heart attack, age 44, on a field trip in Texas.
Schweigger, August Friedrich(1783–1821), German naturalist, age 38, murdered by his guide on a research trip in Sicily.
Seegmiller, Richard (Rick) F. (1952?-1983), Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arizona’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, studying desert bighorn sheep, died in a small plane crash in the Harquahala Mountains when he was radiotracking collared sheep.
Sellow, Friedrich (1789-1831), who gathered important materials in Brazil, most especially as a botanist and zoologist. He drowned, age 42, crossing a river in Brazil during the conduct of his work, leaving rich collections at Berlin and Vienna
Seetzen, Ulrich. J.(1767–1811), German explorer and naturalist specializing in snakes and frogs, traveled in the Middle East disguised as a beggar. Accused of stealing cultural treasures, he was poisoned to death, age 44, apparently on the order of an Imam in what is now Yemen.
Serna, Marco Antonio (1936 – 1991), Colombian naturalist and ornithologist, was looking to collect specimens of the hard-to-catch Little Tinamou in the Magdalena and Cauca valleys of Colombia, when he died, age 55, of a heart attack. Here’s a Spanish-language narration of the incident.
Sherpa, Mingma (1955-2006), a member of the Janajati ethnic group, warden of the national park which contains Mount Everest, closely involved with conservation around Annapurna, killed, age 51, in a helicopter crash that took the lives of 24 people, many of them World Wildlife Fund conservationists, in eastern Nepal.
Shoshani, Jeheskel ‘Hezy’ (19??-2008), an expert in proboscidean (elephant) biology and conservation, killed, age unknown, by a bomb explosion on a minibus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Silberglied, Robert (1946-1982), entomologist, field biologist at Harvard and at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in residence at Barro Colorado Island, Panama, specialized in matching larvae to adult tropical butterflies by raising them up; died, age 36, in the Air Florida accident in Washington DC.
Silliman, James R. (195?-1983), ornithologist and ecologist, graduate of the University of Arizona, best known for his ornithological work in Nicaragua, killed, age unknown, in a car accident in Leon, Nicaragua.
Simons, Perry Oveitt (1869‒1901), an American who collected reptiles and amphibians in Peru (c.1900), and birds in Bolivia (1901), was murdered, age 32, by his guide when crossing the Andes. Seven birds, four reptiles, two amphibians, and a mammal are named after him.
Skiles, Wes (1958-2010) pioneering underwater cinematographer, still photographer and conservationist, worked with National Geographic and scientific research teams to explore caves and their hidden marine life, drowned, age 52, on assignment off the coast of Florida.
Slowinski, Joseph (1962–2001), herpetologist, age 38, in northern Burma, snakebite.
Smith, David (19tk-1991) botanist for the Missouri Botanical Gardens, had nearly completed an amazing flora of the eastern Andes when he died, age 40, from a leg infection picked up on a field expedition
Smith, Herbert H. (1851-1919) was an American naturalist and writer who, together with his wife Daisy, collected widely in South America and the Caribbean. He was deaf and while collecting snails along the railway in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in March 1919, he was struck and killed, age 68, by a train. The spot on the University of Alabama was later known as Smith’s Crossing.
Smith, Lindsay S. (1917-1970), Australian botanist, best known for his work on rainforest trees, particularly in New Guinea during World War II, collapsed and died, age 52,on the slopes of Mount Barney in Queensland, while preparing a list of its plant life.
Smithwick, Richard P. (1887–1909), American ornithologist, smothered to death while digging his way into a soft bank to raid a Belted Kingfisher nest, found “with his feet only projecting through the sand,” age 22, in Virginia.
Snelling, Roy R. (1934-2008), hymenopterist, died, age 74, in Kenya on an ant collecting trip.
Snetsinger, Phoebe (1931-1999), birder famous for having seen 8400 species, most after she was diagnosed with melanoma in 1981. She was an heiress of the Leo Burnett advertising fortune and used her wealth traveling and making field notes that have proved important in mapping species and subspecies distributions. She died in a car accident in Madagascar, age 68, leaving four children who are now bird researchers.
Soto Arenas, Miguel Ángel (1963-2009), murdered by an unknown assailant at his home in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico, specialized in ecology and taxonomy of orchids.
Stalker, Wilfred (1879–1910), British collector of natural history specimens in Southeast Asia, drowned, age 31, on the British Ornithological Union’s 1909 expedition to New Guinea.
Steller, Georg Wilhelm (1709-1746), pioneering botanist and zoologist in Russia and Alaska, namesake to the Steller’s Jay, and many other species in the Northern Pacific region, died, age 37, from scurvy or fever in Siberia.
Stokes, William(?–1873), “sailor boy” on HMS Challenger, killed, age unknown, when block from oceanographers’ dredge tore loose and hit him.
Stoliczka, Ferdinand (1838–1874), Czech paleontologist and naturalist, age 36, of altitude sickness while crossing the Himalayas in Ladakh, in India.
Suhm, Rudolf von Willemoes(1847–1875), German, the youngest of the “Scientifics,” dubbed “the baron” by crew of HMS Challenger, age 28, of erysipelas, an acute streptococcus infection.
Swain, Ralph B. (1912–1953), entomologist, ornithologist, botanist, age 41, murdered by bandits in Mexico.
Swammerdam, Johann (1637–1680), Dutch naturalist, studied medicine and anatomy in Leiden, known for his work on the anatomy of insects, first to describe the phases of insect life, first to describe red blood cells, but later renounced science for religion, died, age 43, of malaria.
Swynnerton, Charles Francis Massey (1877-1938), was an English-born naturalist noted for his contributions to tsetse fly research, who died, age, 60, in Mjari, Tanzania, when his Dehavilland Leopard Moth airplane crashed as he was on route to England to receive an award for his work.
Tegner, Mia (1948?-2001), ecologist of the kelp forests for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, died, age 53, while scuba diving off California
Thaler, Konrad (1940- 2005), Austrian arachnologist who described 77 species of Alpine and Mediterranean spiders, died, age 64, of a sudden heart attack while on a student field trip in the Alps.
Thanikaimoni, Ganapathi (1938–1986), a leading palynologist, who studied contemporary and fossil pollens, was killed, age 48, during the military assault after terrorists hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 from Karachi. He was reportedly helping a child when hit by fragments from a grenade set off by the terrorists.
Thorbjarnarson, John (1957–2010), American herpetologist specializing in crocodiles, age 52, of malaria, in India. In 2012, a biologist named a new fossil species of crocodile, the largest known, in his honor Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni. “He was a giant in the field, so it only made sense to name a giant after him,” said University of Iowa geoscientist Christopher Brochu.
Tillyard, Robin John (1881–1937), British entomologist and paleontologist, also a spiritualist who was said to have searched for the archetype dipteran via séances, died, age 56, from a broken neck suffered in an automobile accident in Australia.
Townsend, John Kirk (1809 –1851), American physician and naturalist, age 42, of arsenic poisoning.
Tripathy, Ambika (19??-2004), was a conservation biologist studying sea turtles on Great Nicobar Island in eastern India. He was killed, age 30 to 35, when the tsunami of December 2004 struck. (See: Chandi, M. 2012. “A story of field assistants and sea turtle research in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.” Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter 16:19-21.)
Tungkyitbo(?–1891), Lepcha collector working with William Doherty, hospitalized in Java for unknown condition, then died at sea.
Veasna, Sam (1966?-1999) Cambodian ornithologist died of malaria, age 33, during field work in the Cardomom Mountains.
Vallée, Anne (1958 -1982), one of the first biologists to observe the impact of climate change on animal populations, died, age 24, in an accident in the Triangle Island reserve, on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island.
Vavilov, Nikolai (1887 – 1943), the first modern scientist to make the connection between genetic variation and plant breeding for the purpose of improving crop plants, and feeding the hungry. His many seedvcollecting expeditions throughout much of the world in the early 1900s are reminicent of the adventures of Indiana Jones. He ran afoul of Joseph Stalin, and was arrested and later starved to death, age 55, in the Gulag. Additional reading: Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Hunger, by Gary Paul Nabhan (Island Press), and The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin’s Persecution of One of the Great Scientists of the Twentieth Century, by Peter Pringle.
Vijaya, J. “Viji” (1959-1987), India’s first female herpetologist and turtle field biologist, found dead in the forest, age 28, of unknown cause. An affectionate profile of her was published here. The turtle Vijayachelys silvatica is named in her honor.
Vishniac, Wolf V. (1922-1973), a microbiologist at the University of Rochester in New York, devised a miniature laboratory intended to be delivered to Mars aboard one of the Viking landers to detect signs of life there. It included a microbiological sensor, dubbed the “Wolf Trap” after its maker. Budget cuts to the project kept the Wolf Trap on Earth, and Vishniac himself died, age 51, on Antarctica while attempting to retrieve an experiment. The crater Vishniac on Mars was named after him. (His father was the celebrated photographer Roman Vishniac.)
Volz, Walter (1875-1907), Swiss botanist, zoologist, and ethnologist, killed, age 32, when the French attacked and destroyed the village of Bussamai (present-day Boussedou) in what is now Guinea,where he had been stranded after being abandoned by his native carriers.
Wahlberg, Johan August (1810‒1856), Swedish naturalist, collected widely in southern Africa (1838‒1856), sending thousands of specimens home to Sweden. He was exploring the headwaters of the Limpopo River when a wounded elephant killed him. An amphibian, mammal, four birds and four reptiles are named after him.
Wallace, Herbert(1828–1850), entomologist, age 22, of yellow fever in the Amazon.
Walker, Terriss (1950-1992) prominent Queensland seabird scientist who disappeared at sea, age 42, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia, while surveying remote seabird islands.
Walsh, Benjamin(1808–1869), the first state entomologist in Illinois, age 61, after losing his foot in a train accident. Here’s a biographic article published in 2003.
Wang, Lue Jiang (1963-2000), a promising young paleoceanographer, raised in China, did his post-doctoral research in Germany and had become a professor at Japan’s Hokkaido University. He was studying the geological history of monsoons in China using fossil planktonic foraminifera and other tools, when he died, age 37, in a diving accident.
Warncke, Klaus (1937-1993), a prolific German hymenopterist, who named over 885 new species of Palearctic bees, and died, age 56, along with his wife, Christa, when their car was struck head-on by an oncoming truck while on a field expedition in Egypt.
Webster III, T. Preston (1947-1975), herpetologist, best known as a pioneer of gel electrophoresis techniques for elucidating species relationships, and among the first to describe “cryptic species” using molecular data. Webster conducted extensive fieldwork on the Anolis lizards of the Caribbean, as well as salamanders in the southeastern USA. He was killed, age 28, in a car crash in Montana and has since been immortalized with the names of Anolis websteri and a salamander Plethodon websteri.
Weller, Worth Hamilton (1913-1931), fell off a cliff on Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, age 18, while collecting specimens of a newly discovered salamander (Weller’s Salamander, Plethodon welleri).
White, Samuel(1835–1880), Australian ornithologist, age 45, of pneumonia or fever during an expedition to the Aru Islands.
Whitehead, John(1860–1899), British collector of natural history specimens in Southeast Asia, age 39, of fever in Hainan, China.
Wood, Geoffrey Howorth Spencer (1927-1957), forest botanist in Sandakan (N. Borneo or Sabah). died, age 30, of burns suffered while preparing his collections and pouring alcohol over them too near the campfire. One of his helpers carried him to the hospital, but too late.
Wysiekierski, Chris (1971-2001), graduate student at the University of Windsor (Canada) working on protection of coastal ecosystems, who drowned in a snorkeling accident, age 30, while conducting field research on coral reefs near Turneffe Atoll, Belize.
York, Eric (1970-2007) biologist killed, age 37, by pneumonic plague after autopsying a mountain lion in the Grand Canyon.
Yudakov, Anatoly (1938-1974), Russian zoologist who mostly studied Siberian tigers, died, age 36, after being crushed by a falling tree in Ussuriland
Zann, Richard (1943?-2007), who studied the zebra finch in field and aviary, as well as lyrebird mimicry and the fauna of Krakatau, died, age 64, with his wife and daughter in the Black Saturday bushfires of February 2007.
Read my article about Dying for Discovery here.
To learn more about how their discoveries have changed our lives, read my book The Species Seekers. (“A swashbuckling romp…brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era.” BBC Focus; “An enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes.” New Scientist; “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story.” Wall Street Journal )