Niexter: Nature’s champion
By Naden Surya Munusamy, 14, Kedah
SOME people describe heroes as those who lead by example.
They are the sort, no matter their age or gender, whom a person can look up to and strive to be like or emulate. They teach us what is right by practicing what they say. Heroes think of others before they think of themselves. A hero is not a publicity seeker. A hero is a champion for those who cannot defend themselves. Everyone and everything needs a champion and Nature’s hero, I feel, is George Schaller. The man is Michael Crichton’s hero (he wrote Jurassic Park) and mine too. Usually thought of as the greatest naturalist and conservationist of the 20th century, George Schaller has been all over the world studying animals. He’s written hundreds of magazine articles, and dozens of books, all about animals and why they do the things they do. In the 19th century, biologists studied exotic animals with the approach: “find it, kill it, and examine the corpse.” Schaller knew he could study these endangered animals by observing them in the wild. His aim was to protect not just signature species but whole ecosystems in remote parts of the world.
Schaller received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alaska in 1955, and went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to obtain his Ph.D. In 1959, when Schaller was only 26, he studied and lived with the mountain gorillas of the Virunga Volcanoes in Central Africa. Very little was known about the gorillas before his stay there, as most of the information at that time came from observing gorillas in captivity. Schaller has written of his two-year study in his book The Year of the Gorilla. And Schaller’s efforts have helped clear the Hollywood myths of gorillas being bad, and raising awareness of their intelligence and human-like behaviour.
In the fall of 1973, Schaller went to the Himalayan region to an area in Nepal to study the Himalayan Bharal, or blue sheep, and by chance saw a snow leopard, (something rarely seen in the wild). Schaller is one of only two westerners known to have seen a snow leopard.
In 1988, Schaller and his wife traveled to China to study the Giant Panda, and became the first westerners permitted to enter the remote region of Chang Tang. Schaller didn’t believe in the notion that the panda population was decreasing due to a lack of bamboo. He found that pandas of the region were being captured, and that this was the biggest threat to the population. During his stay, Schaller also found evidence that pandas were originally carnivores. Evidence showed that an evolutionary change occurred to adapt them to a diet of bamboo, which is difficult to digest, reducing the competition with other animals for food. Since Schaller’s research, the panda population has increased by 45 per cent. He was awarded National Geographic’s Adventure Lifetime Achievement Award. Schaller is considered the finest field biologist of our time and “… the most powerful voice for conservation in more than 100 years.” Schaller calls the work of conservation, a gigantic, continuous headache, as instead of just being a biologist, he must also be a fund-raiser, diplomat, politician, sociologist, anthropologist… everything at once.
Now 74, Schaller is trying to create an international refuge across parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and China to shelter the majestic and endangered Marco Polo sheep.
Read more: Niexter: Nature’s champion http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/Niexter_Nature__8217_schampion/Article/#ixzz0xk6fjPzk