THE LAST PANDA by George B. Schaller


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 Will the beloved giant panda go the way of the dinosaur and the dodo? The prognosis is uncertain (fewer than one thousand pandas remain in the wild, and a live panda draws over $100,000 on the black market), says wildlife expert Schaller in this popularization of his years of panda fieldwork in China (first described in more scholarly fashion in his The Giant Pandas of Wolong, 1985). As usual, Schaller describes nature with a poet's eye (``the ridge lunged upward like a dragon's spine bristling with fir and birch''). But what sets this apart from his earlier books is its bold political content. As Schaller sees it, both the Chinese government and the World Wildlife Fund, cosponsors of his panda fieldwork, have messed up in their attempts to help the panda. Most of the author's opprobrium falls on Chinese officials, who come across as venal, xenophobic, and in love with red tape. Panda breeding stations in China are dark, cold, and caked with frozen urine and feces; some Chinese scientists abuse the animals instead of studying them. Poaching is an ever-present problem as well. In this oppressive climate, Schaller managed to conduct valuable research into panda daily life, mating, child rearing, and the mystery of why these enormous animals eat only bamboo, so poor in nutrients (``like a person who subsists only on watermelon''). He coos over panda droppings (``carefully I passed the fragile treasure to Sir Peter''), measures the length of chewed bamboo stems, and wonders at the panda's solitary ways, all the while fretting over the paranoia rampant in the research camp--a holdover, he believes, from the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Not that the West is blameless: Schaller denounces the widespread practice of European and American zoos renting pandas for exhibition without paying proper attention to captive breeding programs. Classic Schaller, with a punch--score one for the panda. (Twenty-seven color plates, nine maps--not seen.) (First printing of 20,000)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-226-73628-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993


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