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Maria Emilie Anna von Mikulicz-Radecki
15 May 1924
|Died||24 December 1971 (aged 47)|
|Cause of death||Crash of LANSA Flight 508|
|Alma mater||University of Kiel|
Maria Koepcke (15 May 1924 in Germany – 24 December 1971 in Peru) was a German ornithologist known for her work with Neotropical bird species. Koepcke was a well-respected authority in South American ornithology in a time when the field was largely dominated by men and her work is still referenced today. For her efforts, she is commemorated in the scientific names of four Peruvian bird species and, along with her husband, a Peruvian lizard species.
Maria Emilie Anna von Mikulicz-Radecki was born in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany on 15 May 1924, the daughter of Felix von Mikulicz-Radecki, a university professor of gynaecology, and Käthe Finzenhangen. Her father’s family descended from Polish nobility and Polish surgeon Jan Mikulicz-Radecki was a relative of hers.
As a young woman, Koepcke set out to study animals. It was in 1949 that Koepcke obtained her doctorate in zoology from the University of Kiel. During her time in Kiel, she met her future husband, Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, also a student of zoology. After receiving their degrees, the two traveled to Peru in order to study birds and other wildlife native to the area and married there in 1950. They lived in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, and managed Casa Humboldt, a visitor’s centre, until it closed in 1967. The Koepckes’ only child, a daughter named Juliane Margaret Beate Koepcke, was born in Lima in 1954.
Koepcke was killed at the age of 47 in the crash of LANSA Flight 508 in the Peruvian jungle. On 24 December 1971, she and Juliane boarded the ill-fated flight to travel to Pucallpa, where Hans-Wilhelm was working at the time, to spend Christmas there with him. The plane crashed due to a lightning strike during a heavy storm. Their daughter, Juliane, was the only survivor of the crash having fallen from 10,000 feet, still strapped into her seat which cushioned her landing. Though injured and without food, she hiked for 11 days through the rainforest until she was rescued. At the time of her death, Koepcke was a department head for a natural history museum affiliated with the National University of San Marcos in Lima and a member of the German Ornithologists' Society.
After Koepcke's death, Hans-Wilhelm and Juliane both left Peru for Germany, Juliane in 1972 and Hans-Wilhelm in 1974. Hans-Wilhelm lived in Hamburg, teaching zoology at the University of Hamburg until his death in 2000, and Juliane, like her parents, studied zoology at the University of Kiel and became a mammalogist, specializing in the study of bats.