The giant panda is probably the best known animal seen by the fewest people. It is endemic to China, and it has suffered badly from poaching and constant loss of habitat. It might well be possible that the Giant panda had already ceased to exist, if it were not for their unique, cute appearance, with black ears and eyes, and a black stripe on their white, furry body. Its unique looks have become the symbol of animals on the border of extinction, and while humans continue to be the primary danger for their survival in the long run, humans have also been trying to prevent the cute bear from disappearing through conservation, research and breeding programmes.
For some time in the 1970s, giant pandas being borrowed from China to Western zoos even became one of the first ways of contact between the People's Republic and the West, also called Panda Diplomacy. The Wolong Reserve was already set up in the late 1950s, but it was only in the 1990s that giant pandas were better protected against their main enemy, humans. Since then, numbers have slowly started to rise, although the exact number of wild pandas remains unknown. It was exciting to walk into Wolong Research Centre, as this is one of the places where ongoing research and efforts for preservation of the species is carried out.
Since giant pandas are not small, we immediately spotted the adorable big beasts. While some of the pandas still live in cage like confines, many others are living in larger, more natural spaces. These latter pandas will eventually have to survive in the wild. It was easy to see that pandas love eating, as they spend up to 16 hours a day eating, mostly bamboo. Otherwise, they made us stop often to marvel at their cuteness, their furriness, and their awkward way of moving around. Some pandas were sleeping in a tree top and we were waiting for them to fall out. Another great sight was the incubators, where tiny pandas were sleeping and breathing heavily, vulnerable and protected from the outside world. Since seeing pandas in the wild is very difficult, a visit to the Wolong Research Centre is probably the next best thing to see them in a less zoo-like setting.
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