Reading this morning’s news about the giant panda being moved from “endangered” to “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, reminds me of my small stuffed (artificial) panda bear called Baboo and the backstory to getting him.
During my semester abroad in China two years ago, I made a trip to Sichuan province and visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. I had never seen a panda before and the opportunity to watch many of them (not only the giant panda, but also the red panda) was an opportunity I did not want to miss.
I arrived to the research base in the early morning because I was told that it was the best time to see “xiongmao” (Mandarin for pandas) in action – pandas are quite sluggish and inactive for most of the day – and I was not disappointed. At one of the exhibits, two giant pandas were lazily nudging each other with their paws and trying to push one another off the platform. That was their “active” form of play. Slouched against wooden post, a giant panda at a different exhibit munched on its bamboo straws and let the excess fall from its mouth and land on the ever-growing pile of residue on its lap. In the nursery area, I witnessed baby pandas looking mightily comfortable and peacefully asleep.
After wandering through the entire research base and absorbing all the panda cuteness my heart could bear, I visited the row of gift stands outside the research base entrance. As I looked through the variety of stuffed panda bears and shiny panda key chains, I spotted a solitary fist-sized plush panda bear with a bamboo stick in its mouth. I was traveling on my own during my week-long trip to Chengdu, and upon seeing his (I decided “it” was a “he”) beady little eyes, I knew I had found my new China travel companion, Baboo.
I feel fortunate for having had the opportunity to see these laid-back creatures, even if the ideal situation would have been to see them in their natural habitat. But the effectiveness of the research base and breeding center lies in its ability to raise money for protecting these animals, which translates to protecting the habitat of this species and others.
To learn how the breeding programs and zoos have helped the panda population by funding forest conservation in China, read this article from The Atlantic .