Dr. George Beals Schaller (born 1933) is a mammalogist, naturalist, conservationist and author. Schaller is recognized by many as the world's preeminent field biologist, studying wildlife throughout Africa, Asia and South America. Born in Berlin, Schaller grew up in Germany, but moved to Missouri as a teen. He is the vice president of the Science and Exploration Program at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
Schaller received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alaska in 1955, and went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to obtain his Ph.D. in 1962. From 1962 to 1963, he was a fellow at the Behavioral Sciences department of Stanford University. From 1963 to 1966, Schaller served as research associate for the Johns Hopkins University Pathobiology department, and from 1966 to 1972, served as the Rockefeller University's and New York Zoological Society's research associate in research and animal behavior. He later served as Director of the New York Zoological Society's International Conservation Program from 1979 to 1988.
In 1959, when Schaller was only 26, he traveled to Central Africa to study and live with the mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) of the Virunga Volcanoes. Little was known about the life of gorillas in the wild until the publication of The Mountain Gorilla: Ecology and Behavior in 1963, that first conveyed to the general public just how profoundly intelligent and gentle gorillas really are, contrary to then-common beliefs. Schaller has more recently recounted his epic two year study in The Year of the Gorilla, which also provides a broader historical perspective on the efforts to save one of humankind's nearest relatives from the brink of extinction.
The American zoologist, Dian Fossey, with assistance from the National Geographic society and Louis Leakey, followed Schaller's ground-breaking field research on mountain gorillas in the Virungas. Schaller and Fossey were instrumental in dispelling the public perception of gorillas as brutes, by demonstrably establishing the deep compassion and social intelligence evident among gorillas, and how very closely their behavior parallels that of humans.
In his 1972 work The Tree Where Man Was Born, author Peter Matthiessen described Schaller as "single-minded, not easy to know". Matthiessen went on to say Schaller was "a stern pragmatist" who "takes a hard-eyed look at almost everything", "lean and intent", and in 1978's The Snow Leopard Matthiessen wrote that by that time, some considered Schaller the world's finest field biologist.
In the fall of 1973, Schaller went to the remote Himalayan region, inside Dolpo, an area of Nepal occupied by people of the Tibetan culture and ethnicity. Schaller was there to study the Himalayan Bharal, (blue sheep), and possibly glimpse the elusive snow leopard, an animal rarely ever spotted in the wild. Schaller is one of only two Westerners known to have seen a snow leopard in Nepal between 1950 and 1978. Accompanying him on the trip was Matthiessen, and as a result of the trip, Matthiessen wrote The Snow Leopard, (1978) detailing the accounts of their travels and research, which won the National Book Award. Schaller is referred to throughout the book as "GS".
In 1988, Schaller and his wife traveled to China's Chang Tang (Qian Tang) region to study the Giant Panda, and became the first westerners permitted to enter the remote region. Schaller sought to refute the notion that the panda population was declining due to natural bamboo die-offs. Instead, Schaller found the panda's popularity was leading to its frequent capture, and was the biggest threat to the population. Schaller also found evidence that pandas were originally carnivores, but underwent an evolutionary change to accommodate a diet of bamboo, which is difficult to digest, reducing competition with other animals for food. Since Schaller's research, the panda population has increased in the wild by 45 percent. During his time in China, Schaller would hand out cards to wildlife hunters that read: "All beings tremble at punishment, to all, life is dear. Comparing others to oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill." Schaller has spent more time in China, than he has spent at his home in Connecticut.
In 1994, Schaller and Dr. Alan Rabinowitz were the first scientists to uncover the rare Saola, a forest-dwelling bovine in Laos. Later that year, Schaller rediscovered the Vietnamese Warty pig, once thought extinct. In 1996, he located a herd of Tibetan red deer, also thought extinct.
In 2003, Schaller returned to Chang Tang, and found the wildlife in the area had rebounded since his first trip to the region. Most significantly, the wild yak population, which was estimated at only 13 individuals, had grown to over 187. "The Tibet Forestry Department has obviously made a dedicated and successful effort in protecting the wildlife." Schaller wrote in a letter to the World Wildlife Fund's Dawa Cering. While in Tibet, Schaller worked on researching the rare Tibetan antelope, or chiru, whose population declined due to trophy hunting for their exotic wool. Working with Tibetan authorities, and the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Schaller helped protect the breeding and calving grounds of the chiru in the Kunlun mountains of Xinjiang Province.
In 2007, Schaller worked with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China to develop a new "Peace Park", that would protect of habitat for the largest wild sheep species, the Marco Polo sheep. In danger due to their impressive spiral horns, which can measure up to in length, the sheep is sought out as a trophy by international hunters. Schaller's research in the Pamir Mountains will play an important role in the park's creation.
Schaller's work in conservation has resulted in the protection of large stretches of area in the Amazon, Brazil, the Hindu Kush in Pakistan, and forests in Southeast Asia. Due to Schaller's work, over 20 parks or preserves worldwide have been established, including Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the Shey-Phoksundo National Park in Nepal, and the Chang Tang Nature Reserve, one of the world's most significant wildlife refuges. At over , the Chang Tang Nature Reserve is triple the size of America's largest wildlife refuge, and was called "One of the most ambitious attempts to arrest the shrinkage of natural ecosystems," by The New York Times.
Schaller has written more than fifteen books on African and Asian mammals, including Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator–Prey Relations, The Last Panda, and Tibet's Hidden Wilderness, based on his own studies, and supported by long-term observations of species in their natural habitats. Schaller has also written hundreds of magazine articles, and dozens of books and scientific articles about tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and leopards, as well as wild sheep and goats, rhinoceri, and flamingos. Over more than five decades, Schaller's field research has helped shape wildlife protection efforts around the world.
Schaller's conservation honors include National Geographic's Lifetime Achievement Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the World Wildlife Fund's Gold Medal for: "Contributions to the understanding and conservation of endangered species". Schaller has also been awarded the International Cosmos Prize, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and he was the first recipient of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Beebe Fellowship. Schaller's literary honors include The National Book Award (for The Serengeti Lion in 1973). In September of 2008, Schaller was awarded the Indianapolis Prize for his work in animal conservation.