< Previous |
| Next >

George Schaller

See more videos



George Schaller has spent 50 years being a conservationist but the planet, it seems, has been waiting for him for far, far longer – a man who lives, breathes, dreams, talks, fights, educates and cajoles on its behalf.

He is the greatest conservationist of the last 100 years, one of the few statements that can be made in countries as far removed from each other as Tajikistan, Germany, the United States, Australia and India without a shred of dissent. And to the small but fervent band of naturalists, field biologists and conservationists who make up the planet’s guardians, he is revered – for his daring, his tenacity, and for the sheer audacity of his vision.

To those outside the conservation circle, there’s something warm and fuzzy about saving the planet. What is hard to envision, though, is the stupendous difficulty and danger of it. Schaller, more than anyone alive, knows that well – he has confronted, studied and helped protect tigers in India, lions in the Serengeti, the Giant Panda in China, mountain gorillas in the Congo, snow leopards in Mongolia, jaguars in Brazil, and wild sheep and goats in the Himalayas.

Since the age of 26, when he first started to study gorillas in the forests of central Africa, he has hiked, climbed, biked, trekked and conquered some of the most forbidding terrain in the world; arguably covering areas of the planet that no one single man has before him. In the process, he has been responsible for establishing over 20 nature reserves and parks, from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Shey-Poksundo National Park in Nepal to the incredible 300,000 sq km Chang Tang Nature Reserve in Tibet, the second largest protected area in the world. Ironically, the biggest dangers haven’t been from wild animals. Schaller has navigated the planet’s remotest corners, areas that even locals often fear; hostile zones where remote tribes and armed groups hold sway. He’s come head-to-head with opium dealers and trophy hunters and illegal tour operators who survive on organising illegal hunting expeditions in the wild.

In his most recent – and possibly most ambitious project yet – Schaller has been working to create the Pamir International Peace Park at the border of four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan, and in the process hoping to save the incredibly rare Marco Polo sheep, named in the 13th century by the legendary explorer himself. Trekking for two months across 800 km of the remote Wakhan corridor, a mountainous strip of northeastern Afghanistan, he’s been confronted with AK-47 wielding tribesmen and stupefied border patrol who cannot comprehend an American researcher walking some of the world’s remotest territory to conduct a census on sheep numbers. To Schaller, though, it simply needed to be done: Afghan officials demanded accurate data on the sheep’s numbers and conditions before examining his proposal for the park.

To anyone who knows or has worked with Schaller, there’s something other-worldly about his connection with animals and the fauna; even otherwise pragmatic men say there’s a deep connection between him and the wilderness that outsiders can neither comprehend nor dent. He’s won every conservation recognition conceivable; Time labeled him a Hero of the Environment; National Geographic gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award; the World Wildlife Fund awarded him their highest honour, a Gold Medal for “contributions to the understanding and conservation of endangered species.” He’s won a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the International Cosmos Prize and the Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation. As author of over 16 books and magazine and scientific articles in the hundreds on rare and protect ted species, he has also won a host of awards for his literary work and influenced entire generations of field biologists, mammalogists and researchers.

Today, on the brink of turning 80 but unstoppable as ever, he may seem like a free spirit roaming the world’s wildernesses – he’s often called the world’s last great old-fashioned adventurer – but in reality, the work of conservation, as he told Discover magazine in an interview, “is a gigantic, continuous headache. Instead of being just a biologist – something for which I was trained – I must also be a fund-raiser, diplomat, politician, sociologist, anthropologist, everything at once.”

Fortunately for the planet, Schaller’s up to it.

< Previous | /
| Next >