A Talk with the Father of Modern Field Biology

Reid Park Zoo extends its sincere thanks to Dr. Aletris Neils of Conservation CATalyst, and Turtle Southern of the Rewilding Institute for coordinating with us to bring a legend like Dr. Schaller to the Zoo.

Dr. George Schaller began his career in the 1950s observing Alaskan wildlife for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His work with the Wildlife Conservation Society took him all over the world to provide critical field research for gorillas in the Congo, tigers in India, lions in the Serengeti, giant pandas in the Sichuan province in Southwestern China, and jaguars in the Pantanal in Brazil.

Dr. Schaller’s work in field biology worked to change misconceptions on how animals were seen by the general public. All written accounts at that time were how “ferocious” mountain gorillas were perceived. He found ways for his field researchers to show submissive body language that would not be perceived as a threat to the animals they were trying to observe. This allowed him to observe the group dynamics of gorillas that researchers had not yet seen.

“And I go out everyday near the lion pride, and with local help we watched some lion prides day and night for over 20 days to find out exactly what they’re doing, how far they’re traveling, what they’re eating and so forth. Because in any project, you need the data to make solid recommendations on what to do to protect them,” Dr. Schaller said during his presentation.

During the evening’s events, Dr. Schaller was presented with a lifetime Conservation CATalyst award by children who represent the next generation of conservationists. They presented their plaque to show their appreciation for the work that Dr. Schaller has done to protect animals in his lifetime. “Like my grandfather says, ‘If Mother Earth goes, we all go’ and we need animals to keep Mother Earth alive, so thank you for protecting them all. I really appreciate all the work you do,” said one of the children.

His journey to the Southwest is not only to inspire the next generation of field researchers, but to spend some time with the local conservationists including members of Conservation CATalyst and the Rewilding Institute to bring jaguars back to their native ranges within Arizona and the borderland region.

Reid Park Zoo’s Conservation Connections brings speakers to present their findings to the local community. Check back on our website for future events.

From left: Turtle Southern, Rewilding Institute; Dr. George Schaller; Kay Schaller; Chris Bugbee; Dr. Aletris Neils, Conservation CATalyst; Jennifer Stoddard, Director of Education and Conservation at RPZ; Nancy Kluge, President and CEO of RPZ