Human Obituaries

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2001:
Gunther Gebel-Williams, 66, died on July 19 from cancer, at home in Venice, Florida. Born in Germany as Gunther Gebel in 1934, Gebel-Williams was the son of a circus seamstress and a theatrical set builder who resisted the Nazis even after being drafted into the Wehrmacht. Gebel-Williams’ mother got him a job with the Harry Williams circus at age 13; he later took Williams’ surname as a gesture of appreciation. Gebel-Williams trained horses, elephants, tigers, and leopards for Williams until 1968, when Ringling Brothers bought the Williams circus to acquire his skills.

Recalled New York Times obituarist Richard Severo, “Gebel-Williams was the principal heir-apparent to the tradition of Clyde Beatty, who dominated the U.S. circus scene in the mid-20th century by walking into cages filled with huge cats armed with a chair, a whip, and sometimes a revolver. Gebel-Williams had no use for chairs or pistols or anything else that would threaten or injure his animals. Only 5’4″, he used his voice and bits of meat to make sure they understood when he was pleased.” Injured by animals many times, Gebel-Williams gave more than 12,000 performances without ever missing a call or allowing any of his animals to be killed for their deeds. “If you do right by animals,” he said, “and do not become careless, they will do the right thing in return. One can never be so certain about people.” He kept the pelts of his favorite animals on the floor of his home, but did not allow anyone to step on them. “We walk around them out of respect,” he explained, “because they are not trophies but dear old friends.” He last performed in 1998.

Ronald Rood, 81, died on July 16 at home in Lincoln, Vermont. A retired high school and college biology teacher, Rood wrote more than two dozen books about nature, initially inspired by finding a turtle at large on a wintery New England day at age seven. Rood wrote a letter about it to Thornton Burgess, the author of many stories about Bobby Coon, Buster Bear, Grand-father Frog, Jerry Muskrat, Johnny Chuck, Old Man Coyote, Reddy Fox, Unc’ Billy Possum, and Peter Cottontail. Burgess responded with a two-page letter. Recalled Rood in 1975, “I figured if that was what a nature writer was, someone who took time to write to little kids, I wanted to be one too.” Locally known as a wildlife rescuer, rehabilitator, and remover of skunks from basements, Rood had his first big success in 1967 with Hundred Acre Welcome: The Story of a Chincoteague Pony, about how he, his wife, and their four children impulsively bought a wild pony in Virginia, whom they brought home to Lincoln in their station wagon.

Robert Izquierdo Martin, 25, a keeper at the Walvo Zoo in Matapozuelos, Spain, was fatally mauled by four lions on June 27 when he accidentally left their cage door ajar while moving them from their night cages to a daytime exhibition pen.

Henry Oram, 38, chief of the KwaZulu Natal regional anti-poaching unit for the Western Shores of Lake St. Lucia, and recent winner of a KwaZulu Natal Wildlife Department award for bravery, was killed in a May 4 shootout with suspected carjackers while investigating alleged prawn and fish poaching.

Banka Behari Das, 79, died on July 28 at home in Bhubaneswar, India. Das held elected offices in Orissa state from 1957 to 1975, but was best known, wrote Jatindra Dash of the Indo-Asian News Service, “for his campaign to protect the olive ridley turtles in Orissa’s Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary. He also won a struggle to save Chilika Lake, a world-renowned bird sanctuary.”

Joe Don Stovall, 46, of Baytown, Texas, escaped a July 30 mobile home fire with his wife Mary “Kitty” Hernandez, but died from smoke inhalation when he ran back inside to try to save his two cats. One was found dead; the other is missing.

Imogene Coca, 92, best known for comedy roles opposite Sid Caesar in the early days of television, but also quietly involved in animal rescue and a donor to animal charities for much of her life, died on June 2 at her home in Westport, Connecticut.

Andrew Hillyard, 43, of Watton, England, drowned on June 26 but saved his dog, who fell from a boat on the River Thurne.

Bradley Long, 36, of Tellerton, England, drowned on June 23 off Mozam-bique as he tried to swim back to the yacht he shared with Lucy Stone, 32, of North Yorkshire, to fetch oars with which to row Stone and her kitten to safety. The incident began when the kitten fell from the yacht in Maputo harbor. Stone leaped into the water to save the kitten, and Long launched a motorized dinghy to pick them both up, but the dinghy ran out of fuel and was swept to sea. Adrift for six hours, Stone and the kitten eventually landed on a small island, from which they were rescued.

Gomathiammal, 65, who fed bananas every morning to Andal, 26, the temple elephant at Algarkoll, India, was trampled on July 18 when Andal inexplicably went berserk as she sat calmly before him.

Lakshmammam, 40, wife of Bannerghatta National Park forest guard Shamanna, startled three wild elephants on July 9 when she stepped outside her hut in the Hakki Pikki Colony Reserved Area near dawn, and was fatally stomped. The park management has been trying to persuade the Hakki Pikki residents to relocate since 1960.

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