Ruth Elizabeth Harkness (21 September 1900 - 20 July 1947) was an American fashion designer and socialite, who traveled to China in 1936 and brought out 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 travelled 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. Su lin meant the phrase `a little bit of something very cute`. Quentin migrated to the US in later years and felt he never go credit for his work in finding the Panda.
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 to Peru, where she chronicled her adventures in Pangoan Diary, and Mexico, where she wrote for Gourmet magazine.
Harkness's friend was an editor at Gourmet and thus paid her for articles when possible. Harkness was found dead in an NY apartment building suffering from Alcoholism.
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.
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 http://www.Femexplorers.com (2002)
- Croke, Vicki Constantine, The Lady and the Panda (2005) (ISBN 0-375-50783-3).
- Nicholls, Henry, "The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal" (2010) 
- Kiefer, Michael (29 November 1990). "Quentin Young, Ruth Harkness, and the pandas in China". San Diego Reader.
- The bear is now stuffed and on display at the Chicago Field Museum. 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
- personal letters from Ruth Harness
- 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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