On September 7, 1826, Jean-Pierre-Armand David Halsouet was born in Ezpeleta, Lapurdi. A renowned zoologist and botanist, Père David, as he was also known, was the first person in the West to record the existence of the giant panda, among other species.
Born into a wealthy and influential family, from an early age he demonstrated an interest in the natural world. He also felt a religious calling and was ordained as a Lazarist priest, but was also able to continue studying the natural sciences at a Lazarist seminary near Genoa in Italy. Indeed, he spent a decade there before being chosen to go on a mission to China in 1862. He was chosen at the request of the eminent scientist Henri Milne-Edwards, then chair of zoology at the prestigious National Museum of Natural History in Paris, to help in the creation of an inventory of what were then relatively unknown Chinese flora and fauna; while at the same time carrying out missionary duties in the country.
Once in China, he reveled in the opportunity to carry out his assigned task and was commissioned to make more scientific journeys throughout the vast country. Ultimately, he made an inventory of hundreds of species of animals and plants, many of them unknown to the West. Most famously, he brought news back of the giant panda, the first European to do so; and the milu or elaphure, a rare species of deer, was named Père David’s deer in his honor.
He died in Paris in 1900 at the age of seventy-four, a recognized world authority in the study of the natural sciences.