Maria Koepcke

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Maria Koepcke
Born Maria Emilie Anna von Mikulicz-Radecki
(1924-05-15)15 May 1924
Leipzig, Germany

24 December 1971(1971-12-24) (aged 47)
Amazon Rainforest, Peru

Cause of death: Plane crash (LANSA Flight 508)
Nationality German
Alma mater University of Kiel
Spouse(s) Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke
Children Juliane Diller

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. 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 passed away in 1971 at the age of 47 as the result of injuries she’d sustained from a plane crash. Just before noon on 24 December 1971, she and Juliane boarded the ill-fated LANSA Flight 508, hoping to travel to Pucallpa, where Hans-Wilhelm was working at the time, to spend Christmas there with him. The plane never reached its destination, crash landing in the Amazon rainforest after being damaged by lightning during a heavy storm. At the time of her death, Koepcke was a department head for a university-affiliated natural history museum 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.



  1. ^ Corvacho, Melvin Gastañaga; MacLeod, Ross; Brooks, Daniel M.; Hennessey, Bennett (2011). "Distinctive morphology, ecology, and first vocal descriptions of Sira Curassow (Pauxi [Unicornis] koepckeae): evidence for species rank" (PDF). Ornitologia Neotropical. 22: 267–279.
  2. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Koepcke", p. 144).