200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 83: “Collecting in Asia ”

« Before It Went Bad

The Patrick Principle »

photo of expedition to Tibet
Members of the 1943 Dolan expedition to Tibet. Brooke Dolan is on the left. Ilya Tolstoy, grandson of Leo Tolstoy, is just to the right of the man on foot. Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives Coll. no. 64.

Collecting in Asia

At the age of 23, Academy naturalist Brooke Dolan proposed, organized, and executed a massive expedition to western China and eastern Tibet in order to secure exceedingly rare high-altitude Asian mammals and birds. Through intense difficulties and efforts—well-documented in Dolan’s journals, correspondence, photographs, and publications—Dolan and co-workers secured several thousand animal specimens. Among them were the elusive giant pandas, including the first juvenile in a western museum. These creatures are in our scientific collections and dioramas on view today.

The second Dolan expedition in 1934–1935 expanded this important scientific work. A third expedition in 1943 had a different purpose. By then Dolan had volunteered to serve his country and became, with Ilya Tolstoy, the first American to enter Lhasa, meet the Dalai Lama (then 7 years old), and represent the United States government’s recognition of Tibet as an autonomous region. The Academy Archives contain five films (on nine reels) with Dolan provenance, one of which is from the last expedition.

Learn more about Academy expeditions, and visit the Academy to see the diorama featuring pandas from Dolan’s expedition.

Plan your visit, check out our new exhibits, and find out about upcoming activities.
Discover the past and explore the future of the natural sciences in our online exhibits.
Make a difference, browse our programs, and get involved with the natural world.