Ruth Harkness

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Ruth Harkness returns to the United States with Su-Lin

Ruth Elizabeth Harkness (21 September 1900 - 20 July 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.

Harkness was born in Titusville, Pennsylvania. 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. His widow Ruth, then living in New York City, decided to complete the mission herself.

Harkness traveled to Shanghai, and with the help of a Chinese-American explorer named 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, where, on 9 November 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[1].

Harkness launched two subsequent expeditions in search of the giant panda. Harkness brought back a second panda, Mei-Mei, in 1937. She did not return with a giant panda on her third and final expedition.

Following her time in China and the success of her book about her adventure with Su Lin, The Lady and the Panda. Harkness travelled Peru, where she chronicled her adventures in Pangoan Diary, and Mexico, where she wrote for Gourmet magazine.

An IMAX film, China: The Panda Adventure, was made about her expedition in 2001. As of 2016, Lady and the Panda, a theatrical film about Harkness written and directed by Justin Chadwick, is in pre-production.[2]


Written by Ruth Harkness:

  • The Lady and the Panda : an Adventure, Carrick & Evans, New York, 1938.
  • The Baby Giant Panda, Carrick & Evans, New York, 1938.
  • Pangoan Diary, 1942. A treatise on Peruvian Indians.
  • "Mexican Mornings" Gourmet, February 1947.


  • Chicago Brookfield Zoological Society, Chicago, Federici~Ross, Andrea, "Let the Lions Roar, History of the Brookfield Zoo"
  • Schaller, George B, New York Zoological Society, National Geographic magazine archive, Vol. 160. No.6, Dec. 1981, Vol 169, No. 3 March 1986
  • Brady, Erika, Smithsonian Magazine, Vol. 14 Number 9, "First Panda Shanghaied in China, stirred up a Ruckas"
  • Kiefer, Michael, "Chasing the Giant Panda" 2002, ISBN 1-56858-223-4
  • Masloff, E.B. '" Panda Wishes", (2000)
  • Masloff, E.B., "A Time for Loving Pandas", Published on (2002)
  • Croke, Vicki Constantine, The Lady and the Panda (2005) (ISBN 0-375-50783-3).


  1. ^ Croke, Vicki (2008), The lady and the panda : the true adventures of the first American explorer to bring back China's most exotic animal, Books on Tape, ISBN 9781415951125, OCLC 188022470
  2. ^ McNary, Dave (October 24, 2016). "Justin Chadwick to Direct 'Lady and the Panda' Movie About Ruth Harkness (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved October 9, 2018.

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