has spent decades fighting for tigers.
PHOTO: MARTIN SCHOELLER
I came across Whitman's words in the introduction of George B. Schaller's most recent book, A Naturalist and Other Beasts: Tales From a Life in the Field.
Whitman's lovely lines have a touch of the wistful—something I don't ordinarily associate with Schaller, one of the world's preeminent conservationists. In this month's issue, he takes stock of what he's seen in more than a half century of wildlife field studies. He ticks off the changes: world population more than doubled, forests mowed down for fields, rangeland given over to livestock instead of wildlife.
The impact of these changes on megafauna such as great cats has been profound. His most alarming example is tigers. They now occupy less than 7 percent of their original range. Barely 4,000 may remain in the wild, compared with some 5,000 in captivity in the United States and China each.
Fortunately for us, Schaller, at 78 years of age, remains committed to the things in nature, as he once put it, that uplift the spirit. "I have chosen a never-ending path—but one where I can make a difference," he writes. "I still strive to protect something that will outlive me, some small achievement that matters."
Schaller has inspired me for more than 20 years. As we mature I believe we become more selective about whom we choose to call heroes. George Schaller is one of mine.