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talking transboundary conservation with George Schaller

Written by Mel on March 14th, 2010

In January, Kate and I traveled to NYC to talk with wildlife biologist George Schaller about transboundary conservation in Asia in preparation for our upcoming journey. Schaller became a household name of sorts thanks to Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, a stunning, poetic, National Book Award-winning account of Schaller’s field work in the Nepal Himalaya, where he and Matthiesson trekked in search of bharal (blue sheep) and snow leopard.

The snow leopard represented not just a rare and beautiful cat whose habits I wanted to study, but also the symbol of a search for something intangible that seemed forever elusive. -George Schaller, Stones of Silence

Through his scientific research and conservation work, Schaller has helped establish over 20 parks or preserves worldwide, including the Chang Tang Nature Reserve, the second largest protected area in the world at over 200,000 miles (320,000 km). Kate and I biked through the far western edge of the Chang Tang during our 2006 cycling trip in Tibet and snapped this photo below.

We met with Schaller to discuss what is perhaps the most ambitious project of his 50-year career: the creation of a Pamir transboundary protected area (TBPA) across parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan. He and others hope to convince governments to protect and regulate the trophy hunting of Marco Polo sheep across the animal’s full migration range, a territory encompassing 20,000-square-miles (51,800-square-kilometer). The potential Pamir TBPA is one of the case studies we are planning to explore on Cycling Silk.

So we met with Schaller over tea in the Manhattan office of Panthera, an NGO that works to protect 36 wildcat species around the globe, including the snow leopard of the Central Asia. For hours he captivated us with stories of his field adventures in the wildest mountains of Asia. We huddled over topographical maps and discussed potential routes for our upcoming bike ride through the ‘Stans. He gave us contact information for politicians, scientists, and others in Tajikistan, and advised us how to navigate the complex political and geographical landscape of the region.

Though establishing a transboundary protected area in the politically contentious Pamirs is a daunting challenge to take on, Schaller is not one to shy from difficult situations or places. As he puts it, and to our hearty agreement,

“If you waited for the world to be quiet, you’d end up staying at home.”
-George Schaller


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