Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dead Naturalists Of The Day

Something a little different from The Species Seekers and author Richard Conniff (via this blog). I never thought about it, but I suppose it's not surprising that naturalism is a dangerous business. At least most of these folks died doing what they loved; that's the way I want to go--hunched over my computer typing "That's what she said," or sitting on my ass playing Call Of Duty and eating Teddy Grahams.

Writes Conniff, "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?"

RUSCHI, Augusto (1915-1986), 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.

ERIC YORK (1970-2007), biologist killed, age 37, by pneumonic plague after autopsying a mountain lion in the Grand Canyon.

HAROLD J. GRANT (1921–1966), American entomologist, age 45, drowned on an expedition collecting grasshoppers in Trinidad.

WILLIAM NEVERMANN (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.

SIARHEI ABRAMCHUK (1984-2010), promising young Belarusian ornithologist, of encephalitis, age 26, after a tick bite in the national park Belavezhskaya pushcha, Belarus.

JOY ADAMSON (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.

DAVID DOUGLAS (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.

HEINRICH MACKLOT (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.

JOHN THORBJARNARSON (1957–2010), American herpetologist specializing in crocodiles, of malaria, in India.

MICHIO HOSHINO (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.

ANDREW M. FIELD (1955-1984), an ecologist, fell from a tree, age 29, while conducting canopy research in Venezuela.

MARGARITA GOMEZ (1987-2011), Universidad de los Andes biology student murdered 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.

ADOLF SCHLAGINTWEIT (1829–1857), one of five German brothers who became naturalists and explorers, beheaded as a spy, age 28, in Kashgar.

KIRSTY M. BROWN (1974-2003), marine biologist with the British Antarctic Survey, drowned, age 29, when attacked while snorkeling and dragged 200 feet underwater by a leopard seal.

PRINCE EUGENIO RUSPOLI (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.

ERWIN EVERT (1940 -2010), botanist in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, where he found five new species of plants, died, age 70, in a “fatal encounter with a grizzly bear” while on his daily botanical walk in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming.

GANAPATHI THANIKAIMONI (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.

DIAN FOSSEY (1932-1985), leading primatologist and conservationist studying mountain gorillas, found murdered in her cabin, age 53, in the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda (case unsolved). Fossey was portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in the film,
Gorillas In The Mist.

JOHANN HELFER (1810–1840), Czech-born naturalist, murdered, age 29, by poison dart in the Andaman Islands.

RICHARD F. SEEGMILLER (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.

(See more here)


  1. My grandma always said nothing good comes from spending too much time outdoors.

    I'm sure all their mothers thought they were choosing a really safe career!

  2. Lefty - for real. We'd be in big trouble without their work.

    RGR - ha! She obviously wasn't a gardener. The young ones are the saddest examples here, but I imagine they were all aware of the inherent risks in their jobs. No way in hell would I hang out in the the jungles of Colombia picking flowers.

  3. I know I couldn't do it. I'm really good at gathering samples of mosquito saliva in my skin. I'm sure I'd die of malaria in a week. Maybe if I had a Travolta-style plastic bubble.

  4. Same here, unless it was an assignment in Rio to study the call of the wild Brazilian booti, a rare and beautiful species.

  5. That's a species many have died studying.

  6. The natural Brazilian booti was an extremely rare subspecies originated by the particular genetic pool of the ecosystem they live in. With the advance in technology, many have tried to artificially reciprocate the appearance and characteristics of the native booti; a few have succeeded and many more have died in the attempt.

  7. Oh well.. there's always the South Beach titmouse.

  8. "drowned on an expedition collecting grasshoppers in Trinidad" Yikes! What a dreadful way to die. I kind of feel sorry for those he left behind too. Imagine having someone ask his loved ones, "What happened? How did he die?" and they would have to give that answer! After the fifth or sixth time trying to explain it, I'm not sure they could keep a straight face.

  9. Wonder what ever happened to Euell Gibbons? Do you think he choked on Grape-nuts?

    Actually some of these sound pretty sad, especially the young ones. Google a leopard seal and check out the teeth on one of those things! Imagine being drug 200' underwater by one of those??

  10. I would NEVER want a tick bite in my Belavezhskaya pushcha. Just sayin'.

    I had such a crush on Joy Adamson when I was young. Hey, those films they showed us weren't exactly new.

    Macklot? There's a decision-making process I'd like to have seen.



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