THE WILDERNESS SHEPHERD
SCHALLER’S 1950S FIELDWORK IN ALASKA LED TO THE CREATION OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE.
EXPLORE the wilds with George Schaller— the world’s greatest living field biologist—and you’ll quickly pick up on his indefatigable sense of mission. While trekking the Arctic in 2006, the then-septuagenarian moved with the same enthusiasm and limber grace as the grad students in his wake, pausing only to pull apart grizzly scats, measure tree trunks and note all in his pocket-size journal.
For more than six decades, he’s endured countless storms, hellacious insects and civil wars in a storied career that he calls “roaming around watching animals.” His gentle yet tenacious advocacy fostered the creation of more than 20 refuges around the globe that protect large creatures besieged by habitat loss, over-hunting and climate change. Armed only with notebook and camera, working in close quarters amid wild teeth and claws, Schaller believes that focusing on charismatic megafauna can extend protection to all important species, even down to scant arachnid species like the newly discovered Liocheles schalleri, given his surname.
Possessed of less aversion to self-promotion, George Schaller could be a household name. His 1950s graduate fieldwork in Alaska led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He steered Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey to their breakthrough work with great apes. And after leading his friend Peter Matthiessen through the Himalayas, he became the semi-anonymous protagonist “GS” in Matthiessen’s 1978 classic, The Snow Leopard. Schaller himself would write 22 books and publish hundreds of articles that further buttressed his devotion to saving wildlife and wilderness.
Now in his 80s, walking near his New Hampshire home in characteristic, watchful strides, he mentions a Colombian colleague who wants him to visit wildlife there. Then China, Brazil, Ecuador, maybe Guyana. “I choose where I can do something useful,” he concludes. And asked when he’ll stop and relax, he waves his hand impatiently. “When I die,” he says, “I retire.”