Dr. George Schaller honored with the China Environment Prize

American Biologist Honored With China Environment Prize

NEW YORK, New York, December 19, 2008 (ENS) – Dr. George Schaller, a world reknowned field biologist and conservationist, has been awarded the China Environment Prize for his efforts to study and protect China’s giant pandas, Tibetan antelope, and China’s wild places.

Schaller is a senior conservationist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Programs and has worked with the Bronx Zoo-based organization for more than 50 years. He has worked in China for much of the last 28 years.

The $70,000 prize was established in 2000 by the China Environmental Protection Foundation to honor and encourage individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the cause of environmental protection in China. The foundation was the first nonprofit organization in China dedicated to environmental protection.

“George Schaller has been and continues to be a role model and driving force for conservation,” said Dr. Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “After more than 50 years of groundbreaking field research on some of the world’s best-known wildlife, George continues to define the field of conservation biology and works tirelessly to preserve our natural heritage.”

One of the first foreign experts to work with the Chinese on conservation issues, Schaller’s conservation work within China began in the 1980s with his seminal research on giant pandas in the bamboo forests of China‘s Wolong Mountains.

Schaller helped the Chinese government establish the massive Chang Tang Wildlife Preserve in Tibet – one of the world’s largest protected areas – in order to protect the plateau’s unique assemblage of wildlife, including wild yak, Tibetan argali sheep, and Tibetan brown bear.

Schaller’s research on Tibetan antelope helped reveal that the rare animal is in fact the source of “shahtoosh,” the world’s finest wool, which is smuggled by poachers into Kashmir, India. He has lobbied to shut down the trade and protect critical habitat in China for this antelope species.

His recent work includes efforts to establish a trans-boundary protected area along the mountainous borders of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan that is inhabited by Marco Polo sheep, ibex, and snow leopard.

Schaller’s reputation in the conservation field was established long before his work in China.

His field work as a graduate student in northern Alaska in the 1950s led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Schaller remains an advocate for permanent protection of the refuge. He has expressed the hope that the incoming administration will safeguard this pristine and ecologically rich part of America‘s landscape.

Schaller initiated the first scientific study of mountain gorillas in Africa‘s Virunga Volcanoes in 1959. Since 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development have invested over $15 million towards conservation of great apes in Africa and Asia, with an additional $14 million coming from private donors and conservation organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Schaller also pioneered behavioral examinations of big cats, with the first ever ecological studies of tigers in India and lions in East Africa. His work resulted in a successful popular work, “The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations,” which won the National Book Award in 1973. He has also studied jaguars and other cat species.

Schaller’s work over the years on several species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has helped raise awareness on the growing rates of global illegal wildlife trade.

His studies have been the basis for his numerous scientific and popular writings, including several books such as The Stones of Silence, The Year of the Gorilla, and The Last Panda. In addition to the China Environment Prize, Schaller has received numerous national and international awards for conservation, including the International Cosmos Prize from Japan and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in the United States.

Dr. Schaller is now working primarily in Iran and Tajikistan, but he will be in New York on February 26, 2009 to keynote a daylong conference devoted to his work.

He will be the featured speaker at the Fairfield Osborn Memorial Conference and Lecture at Rockefeller University. The conference, titled George Schaller: Practicing the Art of Conservation, will celebrate his conservation work over the past 50 years.

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