In the morning hours of October 6, Dr. Erich Klinghammer, the founder and former director of Wolf Park has died at the age of 81 after he had been in ill health for about a month. His mortal remains are to be cremated and his ashes spead in the bison pasture at Wolf Park.
Erich was born on February 28, 1930 in Kassel, Germany and emigrated to the US in 1951. The first few years he lived in Iowa before he moved to Chicago to finish high school, which he could not do in Germany after the war.
Erich was stationed in Austria as an American soldier between 1953 and 1955 and after his return started studying biology at the University of Chicago under the ethologist Eckhard Hess. Hess was also born in Germany and emigrated at an early age. He had good contacts to Konrad Lorenz and so Erich had the opportunity to spend a whole summer in Lorenz' institute in Seewiesen, which was a life shaping experience to him.
Erich wrote his dissertation on the imprinting of Mourning Doves and African Collared Doves. Shortly thereafter, however, he developed ornithosis, a zoonotic infectious disease.
He has always took great interest in dogs, especially after an occurence in his youth when his female German Shepherd "Edda" saved his life vigorously waking him up while his room was in flames after an old oven caught fire.
In his first years in the USA, Erich spotted his first wild wolves during a horseback ride across the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska. Later in his life, at the University of Chicago, he got the chance to meet a hand-reared wolf for the first time and was impressed how different the wolf was from all the dogs he knew.
All these circumstances eventually contributed to the decision to dedicate his scientific and private life to wolves and wolf research, and also led to the establishment of Wolf Park in 1972.
There is one quote by Erich that comes to mind at this point: "On a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago I once looked out of the window over the vasts swaths of open land and thought to myself - what would you be proud of in the evening of your life - what do you want to achieve? Certainly, I would love to contribute to the preservation of the wilderness of this - yet - beautiful country."
His work for the wolf and Wolf Park itself, his legacy to the future, were a major contribution of just that aim. Wolf Park shaped and influenced generations of biologists and will indubitably continue to do so.
We all owe a lot to Erich and Wolf Park - today's wolf preservation efforts would not be the same without their work.
Rest in peace, Erich. We will truly miss you.
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