CHAPTER I. THE OBJECT OF THE EXPEDITION
The earliest remains of primitive man probably will be found somewhere in the vast plateau of Central Asia, north of the Himalaya Mountains. From this region came the successive invasions that poured into Europe from the east, to India from the north, and to China from the west; the migration route to North America led over the Bering Strait and spread fanwise south and southeast to the farthest extremity of South America. The Central Asian plateau at the beginning of the Pleistocene was probably less arid than it is today and there is reason to believe that this general region was not only the distributing center of man but also of many of the forms of mammalian life which are now living in other parts of the world. For instance, our American moose, the wapiti or elk, Rocky Mountain sheep, the so-called mountain goat, and other animals are probably of Central Asian origin.
Doubtless there were many contributing causes to the extensive wanderings of primitive tribes, but as they were primarily hunters, one of the most important must have been the movements of the game upon which they lived. Therefore the study of the early human races is, necessarily, closely connected with, and dependent upon, a knowledge of the Central Asian mammalian life and its distribution. No systematic palaeontological, archaeological, or zooelogical study of this region on a large scale has ever been attempted, and there is no similar area of the inhabited surface of the earth about which so little is known.
The American Museum of Natural History hopes in the near future to conduct extensive explorations in this part of the world along general scientific lines. The country itself and its inhabitants, however, present unusual obstacles to scientific research. Not only is the region one of vast intersecting mountain ranges, the greatest of the earth, but the climate is too cold in winter to permit of continuous work. The people have a natural dislike for foreigners, and the political events of the last half century have not tended to decrease their suspicions.
It is possible to overcome such difficulties, but the plans for extensive research must be carefully prepared. One of the most important steps is the sending out of preliminary expeditions to gain a general knowledge of the natives and fauna and of the conditions to be encountered. For the first reconnoissance, which was intended to be largely a mammalian survey, the Asiatic Zooelogical Expedition left New York in March, 1916.
Its destination was Yuen-nan, a province in southwestern China. This is one of the least known parts of the Chinese Republic and, because of its southern latitude and high mountain systems, the climate and faunal range is very great. It is about equal in size to the state of California and topographically might be likened to the ocean in a furious gale, for the greater part of its surface has been thrown into vast mountain waves which divide and cross one another in hopeless confusion.
Yuen-nan is bordered on the north by Tibet and S'suchuan, on the west by Burma, on the south by Tonking, and on the east by Kwei-chau Province. Faunistically the entire northwestern part of Yuen-nan is essentially Tibetan, and the plateaus and mountain peaks range from altitudes of 8,000 feet to 20,000 feet above sea level. In the south and west along the borders of Burma and Tonking, in the low fever-stricken valleys, the climate is that of the mid-tropics, and the native life, as well as the fauna and flora, is of a totally different type from that found in the north.
The natives of Yuen-nan are exceptionally interesting. There are about thirty non-Chinese tribes in the province, some of whom, such as the Shans and Lolos, represent the aboriginal inhabitants of China, and it is safe to say that in no similar area of the world is there such a variety of language and dialects as in this region.
Although the main work of the Expedition was to be conducted in Yuen-nan, we decided to spend a short time in Fukien Province, China, and endeavor to obtain a specimen of the so-called "blue tiger" which has been seen twice by the Reverend Harry R. Caldwell, a missionary and amateur naturalist, who has done much hunting in the vicinity of Foochow.
The white members of the first Asiatic Zooelogical Expedition included Mr. Edmund Heller, my wife (Yvette Borup Andrews) and myself. A Chinese interpreter, Wu Hung-tao, with five native assistants and ten muleteers, completed the personnel.
Mr. Heller is a collector of wide experience. His early work, which was done in the western United States and the Galapagos Islands, was followed by many years of collecting in Mexico, Alaska, South America, and Africa. He first visited British East Africa with Mr. Carl E. Akeley, next with ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, and again with Mr. Paul J. Rainey. During the Asiatic Zooelogical Expedition Mr. Heller devoted most of his time to the gathering and preparation of small mammals. He joined our party late in July in China.
Mrs. Andrews was the photographer of the Expedition. She had studied photography as an amateur in Germany, France, and Italy, as well as in New York, and had devoted especial attention to the taking of photographs in natural colors. Such work requires infinite care and patience, but the results are well worth the efforts expended.
Wu Hung-tao is a native of Foochow, China, and studied English at the Anglo-Chinese College in that city. He lived for some time in Teng-yueh, Yuen-nan, in the employ of Mr. F.W. Carey, Commissioner of Customs, and not only speaks mandarin Chinese but also several native dialects. He acted as interpreter, head "boy," and general field manager. My own work was devoted mainly to the direction of the Expedition and the hunting of big game.