The internationally renowned field biologist's account of the 30 years he spent observing endangered animals on the Tibetan Plateau.
In a narrative that is part travelogue, part scientific logbook and part memoir, Schaller (A Naturalist and Other Beasts: Tales from a Life in the Field, 2007, etc.) takes readers on a journey through the northern Chang Tang plains of Tibet. For most of his long career, the eminent naturalist found himself drawn to the Chang Tang's "totemic loneliness...silence and desolation.” When he got the chance to travel there in 1984, it was to observe mammals like the Tibetan wild yak and snow leopard. Schaller eventually switched his focus to the chiru, or Tibetan antelope, and their migrations across Asia. At one time, the chiru were a plentiful species; by the late 1980s, however, Tibetan poachers had slaughtered them to near-extinction. In the beginning, Schaller's interests were purely scientific. But the more he became acquainted with Chang Tang, the more he developed a passion for what it represented: "a reminder of our moral obligation to discard self-indulgence and to protect life on Earth.” He made the plight of the chiru public through his work as a lecturer and quickly became the target of accusations that he was "a voice of the Chinese government.” Through his work and the work of other dedicated conservationists in Asia, the chiru has made a comeback. Schaller's single-minded dedication to wildlife preservation in Chang Tang and around the world is genuinely inspiring. However, his tendency toward meticulous factual recitations, his surface descriptions of people and places and his fragmentary reflections on himself and his life will likely not appeal to a wide audience.
Admirable work from an engaged, but not necessarily always engaging, author.