A Hero’s Journey in Southeast Asia


Lunch Presentation of Paul Spencer Sochaczewski on April 5th

von Regina Bandi

“Who of you would set off for a real adventure? Who of you has ever done something absolutely crazy? Who of you believes to be an unrecognised hero? If you have just raised your hand more than once, you are in good company and probably would have liked Alfred Russel Wallace!” This is how Paul Sochaczewski started our 5th April Lunch seminar and took the audience in the blink of an eye to Victorian England, South America and Southeast Asia.

We learned that Wallace dropped out of school being only 13, how he managed to get on a ship to the Amazon at the age of 25 collecting invaluable diversities of butterflies and beetles just to lose them all four years later to a fire on his way back to England, leaving him ship-wrecked.

We learned how, despite everything, he travelled again, this time to the Malay Archipelago collecting birds of paradise, tortoises and butterflies. Studying the islands for 8 years he grasped that faunal divide, today termed the Wallace Line. This invisible line separates the Indonesian archipelago into two distinct parts: a western portion with animals of Asian origin and an eastern portion where the fauna reflects the marsupial species of Australasia.

We learned how Wallace would always be short of money not belonging to the rich English upper class and how he therefore had to compromise being a conservationist and at the same time selling precious specimen of paradise birds and orang-utans having to make a living.

We learned that although Wallace would be considered the 19th century’s foremost expert on geographical distribution of animal species and one of the leading evolutionary thinkers – being co-discoverer of natural selection with the contemporary naturalist Charles Darwin – and although Wallace discovered hundreds of new species and wrote 747 publications and 24 books, he did not earn much credit for his work and is to this day largely kept out of biology text books.

Students were astounded by these facts, and got interested in reasons for why Wallace would earn so little recognition. They had to acknowledge it had more to do with social status and politics of the British upper class than personal asset or genius. In other words: Darwin was in and Wallace was out.

The intention of this seminar was on one hand to open minds and to kick-off the chapters of evolution to our third-grade focus classes on the other hand to open a window of interest to first and second year students who did make up a significant part of the audience.

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski is an American writer, conservationist, writing coach and communications advisor. For more than a decade he created international awareness campaigns working as head of creative services at WWF. Throughout his life he has lived and worked in some 80 countries. Today he lives in Geneva.