Dr. Kurt Benirschke, noted pathologist and animal conservationist, passed away September 10, 2018, at the age of 94.
Benirschke was born in the small northern German town of Glückstadt in 1924. He received his medical degree from the University of Hamburg in 1948 and immigrated to the United States in 1949.
Benirschke received residency training in pathology at Harvard Medical School and, in 1955, became a pathologist at Boston Lying-in Hospital, now part of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. From 1960 to 1970, Benirschke served as chair of the Department of Pathology at Dartmouth Medical School. In 1970, Benirschke joined the faculty of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. In August of 1970, Benirschke became involved with the San Diego Zoo, lobbying for the creation of a novel “cell bank” to preserve the eggs, sperm and other tissues of endangered species. In 1979, the Zoological Society established CRES, the Center for Research of Endangered Species, which Benirschke led until 1985, when he joined the Zoo’s board of directors. Today, the renamed San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is the largest of its kind, with more than 10,000 living cell cultures, oocytes, sperm and embryos representing nearly 1,000 taxa, some extinct and many severely endangered.
Benirschke produced more than 500 scientific publications and more than 30 books, including the authoritative text “Pathology of the Human Placenta,” now in its sixth edition. He received numerous honors and awards, including the Virginia Apgar Award in 1998 from the American Academy of Pediatrics. He was a member of many scientific societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Teratology Society.
He is survived by his wife, Marion, and three children: Stephen Benirschke, a surgeon and professor of orthopaedics and sports medicine at University of Washington; former San Diego Charger Rolf Benirschke; and Ingrid Benirschke-Perkins, community relations director for CARTA at UC San Diego.
In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations to San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research at http://institute.sandiegozoo.org/.