George Schaller has been learning about animals for his entire life, and he's spent his professional life documenting the "great beasts," as he calls them. A Life in the Wild is his story. Leaving Germany as a boy after World War II, Schaller came to America and continued his education here. He was always a naturalist at heart, keeping lizards, pigeons, an opossum, and even a copperhead. As a student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, George was drawn to field biology, and that became his lifelong passion. This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2009 recounts his long career in fascinating detail, using stories of his life as a research naturalist along with his own photos.
His projects were intense and long-term; he lived in the wild and photographed under often-hazardous conditions. He started in the U.S., documenting the behavior of wildlife in the Rockies and Alaska until 1957. After that came two years in the Belgian Congo working with gorillas; two years in India tracking tigers; three years in Tanzania observing lions; six years in the Himalayas of Pakistan and Nepal, tracking the elusive snow leopard; five years in China working with pandas; and until the present surveying asses and antelopes on the Tibetan Plateau. His adventures, often accompanied by his scientist wife and their sons, are exciting stories of real science with its hazards, frustrations, and satisfactions. The stories are told in a concrete way that puts the reader right into the action. Not intended for the squeamish, the photos are of nature as it is—sometimes bloody, sometimes tragic, always amazing. Kids will be amazed at the lives his small children led, in and among the research animals and specimens their parents were studying.
In the classroom, A Life in the Wild can obviously be used an enrichment book, but it is far more than that. An individual chapter would make a great basis for an animal report. As a read-aloud in conjunction with appropriate animal studies or geography, it will keep students engaged. Finally, this is a wonderful book for kids to read to see that science is definitely not all done by Einstein-like caricatures in some messy lab. Challenging work like that of George Schaller enriches all of us by helping us understand the other animals that share our planet and deserve our respect and protection.