Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ruth Harkness

Ruth with Su Lin
Ruth Elizabeth Harkness (September 21, 1900 – July 20, 1947) was an American fashion designer and socialite, who traveled to China in 1936 and brought back the first live giant panda to the United States - not in a cage, or on a leash, but wrapped in her arms.

She was born in Titusville, PA. In 1934, her husband Bill Harkness had traveled to China in search of a panda, but died of throat cancer in Shanghai early in 1936. Ruth, then living in New York, decided to complete the mission herself.

She traveled to Shanghai and with the help of Chinese-American explorer Quentin Young and Gerald Russell, a British naturalist, launched her own panda mission. After passing through Chongqing and Chengdu, the team arrived at a mountainous region. There, on November 9, 1936, they encountered and captured a nine-week-old panda cub. The panda, which they named Su Lin after Young's sister-in-law, was bottle-fed baby formula on the journey back to Shanghai and the United States.

The panda caused a great sensation in the American press and eventually ended up at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Ruth brought back a second panda, Mei-Mei, before her death on July 20, 1947.

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