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The Last Panda
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About the Author

George B. Schaller is a senior conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and Vice President of Panthera, a foundation devoted to the conservation of wild cats. He is the author of many books, including The Mountain Gorilla and The Last Panda, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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In this book, Schaller, the author of The Giant Pandas of Wolong ( LJ 6/1/85) and many popular accounts of his field research on such animals as lions and gorillas, describes a World Wildlife Fund-sponsored study of the giant panda, carried out in cooperation with Chinese scientists throughout the 1980s. As the title suggests, the panda faces the same problems as beloved but endangered animals everywhere: loss of habitat, poaching, ready markets for pelts as status symbols, breeding problems and ``rent a panda'' policies in zoos, and indifferent bureaucrats at every level. An unusual aspect of the panda problem is the periodic die-off of bamboo, the animal's main diet; Schaller describes the worldwide confusion and concern about pandas caused by the flowering of bamboo in the mid-1980s. Americans are still crazy about pandas, as the dismay over the recent death of Ling-Ling at Washington's National Zoo demonstrates. Schaller's reserved and faintly depressed tone does not make for lively reading, but he has an important story to tell. For most libraries.-- Beth Clewis, Prince William, P.L., Va.

From 1980 to 1985 Schaller ( The Mountain Gorilla ) was engaged in field research on the giant panda, in a joint project of the Chinese government and the World Wildlife Fund. He gives a riveting account of his experiences on two levels: observing pandas in their natural and dwindling habitat while simultaneously coping with bureaucratic obduracy, mismanagement, carelessness and lack of commitment among most of the Chinese scientific team. From a rugged camp at the Wolong panda reserve in Sichuan province, Schaller and his wife, Kay, monitored pandas, documenting their travels, courtships, births and deaths. They also tracked red pandas, golden monkeys and takins (relatives of the musk-ox). The project revealed the fragmented habitat of the pandas, which exist in isolated populations threatened by local poaching and depredation of the bamboo forests. Today, fewer than 1000 giant pandas live in the wild. Schaller discusses the ``rent-a-panda'' scheme, whereby Western zoos pay huge sums to China to ``borrow'' pandas for exhibit. In 1989 the WWF published a conservation strategy for the panda; it has yet to be implemented. Schaller's account offers a striking example of the conflict between politics and conservation. Photos. (Apr.)

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