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Biologist George Schaller's 50-Year Battle
Text by Ryan Bradley    Illustrations by Laszlo Kubinyi


Back to Best of Adventure Home Page >>

Over the course of his career, field biologist George Schaller has developed a unique strategy for protecting the world's great wilderness areas: Focus on an ecosystem's most captivating species—the "charismatic megafauna"—and let the animal garner support for the protection of the landscape at large.

Read the feature about George Schaller: The Megafauna Man >>

Gorillas of the Virunga
In 1959 a 26-year-old Schaller traveled to central Africa to live among the mountain gorillas. During his two-year study, he eluded Watusi invaders, dodged poachers, and wrote The Year of the Gorilla (University of Chicago Press). The book inspired a generation of naturalists (Dian Fossey among them) and led to the creation of Virunga National Park.
Illustration: Gorilla
Lions of the Serengeti
From 1966 to 1969 George Schaller, his wife, Kay, and their two sons lived in Tanzania's Serengeti while Schaller conducted the first study of the cats' movements and social behavior. His 1973 National Book Award-winning account, The Serengeti Lion (University of Chicago Press), improved wildlife-management practices the world over.
Illustration: Lion
Snow Leopards of the Himalaya
Schaller's quest to study and protect the elusive cat was memorialized in Peter Matthiessen's 1979 National Book Award–winning travelogue The Snow Leopard. Five years later, drawing on Schaller's field research, the Nepalese government created Shey-Phoksundo National Park.
Illustration: Snow leopard
Pandas of the Wolong
In 1980, as the first Westerner to study the rare and beloved animal, Schaller debunked the notion that panda populations were suffering as a result of periodic bamboo die-offs. Instead, he said, the popularity of the species, which led to its frequent capture, was the greater danger. Today the number of wild pandas has increased by 45 percent.
Illustration: Panda
Chiru of the Tibetan Plateau
In the 1980s, while exploring China's Chang Tang region—home to the chiru (Tibetan antelope)—Schaller gave hunters a card that said: "All beings tremble at punishment, to all, life is dear. Comparing others to oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill." His efforts led to a 115,500-square-mile (299,144-square-kilometer) reserve.
Illustration: Chiru
Marco Polo Sheep of the Pamir
Schaller's latest project, a peace park encompassing parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and Tajikistan, will protect 20,000 square miles (51,800 square kilometers) of prime Marco Polo sheep habitat. Though the idea for the park has existed for a century, Schaller's wildlife surveys in the Pamirs will play an instrumental role in the park's creation.
Illustration: Marco Polo sheep

Read the feature about George Schaller: The Megafauna Man >>

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