Obituaries [June 2008]

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:
Stephen Claussen, 41, was killed in a May 17, 2008 light
plane crash in Englewood Township, New Jersey, along with pilot and
plane owner John Ambroult, 60, of Eastham, Massachusetts.
“Claussen, of Seattle, was best known for training Keiko, star of
the blockbuster movie Free Willy, for six years in preparation for
his release into the wild,” recalled Newark Star-Ledger staff
reporter Maryann Spoto. Claussen and crash survivors Jaclyn Toth
Brown, 28, and Juan Carlos Salinas, 43, of Mexico City, “worked
for Texas-based Geo-Marine Inc. gathering data for an environmental
impact statement the state Department of Environmental Protection
will use in assessing what effect offshore wind-powered turbines may
have on marine mammals and birds,” Spoto added. Raised in Bellvue,
Washington, Claussen volunteered in his teens at the Point Defiance
Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, “driving down before work at 4 a.m. to help
feed the animals,” wrote Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore.


“This early-morning volunteer work led to a job at Oregon Coast
Aquarium tending to Keiko.” Claussen subsequently worked for the
Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, “and was in the plane in 1998 with
Keiko when he was taken to Iceland to be set free,” Gilmore
continued. Claussen spent four years with Keiko in Iceland, but
was criticized for not making faster progress toward releasing Keiko,
and was replaced after the Humane Society of the U.S. took over the
project in 2002. Swimming free soon afterward, Keiko died in 2003
in a Norwegian fjord. Claussen “resented the fact that Keiko was
released when he was. Keiko was as close to a child as Stephen ever
got. Keiko was Stephen’s kid,” his brother Jim Claussen told
Gilmore.

Atsushi Ito, a keeper at the Kyoto City Zoo in Japan who
shared the name of one of Japan’s leading film stars, was fatally
mauled by an 11-year-old male tiger on June 7, 2008. “Police
suspect Ito had failed to lock the cage door, allowing the tiger to
slip into a room where he was working,” reported Associated Press.
The accident paralleled the fatal mauling of Denver Zoo jaguar
caretaker Ashlee Germaine Pfaff in February 2007, and the December
2007 critical injury of volunteer Chris Orr, 40, by a four-year-old
tiger at the Shambala Preserve, operated by actress Tippi Hedren in
Acton, California. Both Hedren and her daughter, actress Melanie
Griffith, have been mauled in previous incidents at the
site–Griffith in 1976, at age 19, early in her rapid rise to
stardom.

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