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Chasing the Panda: How an Unlikely Pair of Adventurers Won the Race to Capture the Mythical “White Bear”
Michael Kiefer
4 stars

Wealthy American widow Ruth Harkness became famous in 1936 for bringing the first live giant panda to the United States, but little has been known about the two Chinese-American hunters who led Harkness on her trek through the Sichuan mountains in search of the panda.
Kiefer, a freelance writer and former Outside magazine editor, tells the story of Quentin and Jack Young, dashing naturalists and adventurers. Kiefer first met Quentin in the late 1980s and spoke with both brothers (by then estranged), though he spent more time with Quentin. At the time of the expedition, the Young brothers and Harkness knew little about pandas (Quentin actually admits that he hated them), and Kiefer doesn’t whitewash the cruelty of their mission.
In the 1930s, only a handful of Westerners had seen these animals, and swashbucklers such as Theodore Roosevelt’s sons, Ted Jr. and Kermit, had made a sport of hunting them. Once Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo bought Harkness’s panda, other zoos began to covet their own specimens, setting off a legacy of panda hunting that led to the animals’ becoming endangered.
At the same time, the author obviously admires Quentin, though he’s aware how unfashionable and morally dubious his lifestyle as a hunter is considered today. As he puts it, “Quentin Young is the last specimen of an endangered species: the early twentieth century explorer-adventurer-naturalist.” Readers interested in either this or the more traditional kind of endangered species will enjoy this well-researched, nuanced tale. – Publishers Weekly


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