Paul A. Zahl

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Paul A. Zahl (1910–1985) was an American biologist. He was a frequently published author and columnist as well as a respected photographer and explorer. He served as senior scientist to the National Geographic Society from 1958 to 1975.

Life and career[edit]

Paul Arthur Zahl was born in Bensenville, Illinois in 1910. He was an honors graduate of North Central College in that state, then received his doctorate in experimental biology from Harvard University in 1936, and immediately became notable in cancer research at Haskins Laboratories.[1]

However, he became increasingly interested in natural history and wrote his first book "To the Lost World" in 1939. This was about a trip he took to Mt. Roraima in Venezuela. He wrote few books during his long career: "Blindness: Modern Approaches to the Unseen Environment" (1950), "Flamingo Hunt" (1952), and "Coro-Coro: World of the Scarlet Ibis" (1954). Also during this period he did research at New York's Museum of Natural History.

In the 1950s, Zahl concentrated on his writing and photography career with National Geographic. He was senior scientist of natural history for the society from 1958 to 1975.[1]

Zahl wrote more articles for National Geographic than anyone else in its long history, over fifty articles from 1949 to 1978. He always chose his subject matter and was never assigned them, and all the photography was taken by him. He wrote about coral reefs and volcanoes, giant frogs, carnivorous plants, seahorses, scorpions, man-of-war jellyfish, piranhas, hatchetfish, butterflies, and slime molds. He discovered the tallest redwood tree known at the time in the mid-sixties, which made the magazine's cover.[2]

Zahl was married and had two children. At least sixteen of the articles included the entire Zahl family as they went off on adventurous vacations exploring the natural world. Up until 1959, the covers of the magazine had the famous yellow border and the black-on-white table of contents, but no photography. When photos were added, Mrs. Eda Zahl was the first human being to grace the cover of the magazine - even diving apparatus couldn't hide her good looks and she became known as the "playgirl of National Geographic".

Zahl wrote prolifically. His articles also appeared in Atlantic Magazine, Scientific American, Scientific Monthly, and in the 1960s he wrote a column for The American Scholar. He won many awards for photography and some of his work is on permanent display in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Paul A. Zahl died of prostate cancer in 1985, at the age of 75. At the National Geographic Society headquarters, they hung the flag at half mast.


  1. ^ a b "Dr. Paul Arthur Zahl, A Biologist and Writer". The New York Times. 21 October 1985. Retrieved 15 December 2011. 
  2. ^ "World's Tallest Tree Discovered". National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved February 7, 2015.