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Former SD Zoo leader, Dr. Kurt Benirschke, dies


Last updated 9/13/2018 at 8:27pm

SAN DIEGO - San Diego Zoo Global today announced the death of former Zoological Society of San Diego President and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research founder Dr. Kurt Benirschke.

Benirschke, 94, died Sept. 10 according to the zoo.

In 1979, he founded the Institute -- then called the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species -- and served as director until 1985.

In 1986, Benirschke joined the Zoological Society's board of trustees, serving as the board's president from 1997 to 2000.

Benirschke applied human medical ethics to the conservation of animal species.

"We can live without gorillas and giraffes, without butterflies and hummingbirds,'' he once said, according to the zoo. "But will we like it? Will we want to? I don't think we have the right to say the world is made for us alone.''

Originally from Gleuckstadt, Germany, Benirschke emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 after receiving his medical degree from the University of Hamburg. Benirschke became a professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine in 1970 and would eventually spend two years as the chair of the school's department of pathology as well.

"Kurt Benirschke was a charming person, an intense scholar and unquestionably a man of vision,'' said Dr. Oliver Ryder, one of Benirschke's former colleagues. "He was passionately multidisciplinary, assembling teams with broad backgrounds in the efforts he led in medicine, conservation science and redefining the role of zoos. He touched the lives of so many people, and for many, like myself, he played a critical role in their professional lives as a mentor. He leaves a large legacy.''

Benirschke is survived by his wife, Marion, and their children, Stephen, Ingrid and Rolf, a kicker for the San Diego Chargers from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.


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