60 Minutes blog

Liam Bartlett: Operation Panda

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I think the first time I ever saw a Panda it was sitting on my sister’s bed. Admittedly, it had a long zipper down its back and she used it to store her pyjamas. It was the face of angelic furriness, the king of fluffy toys.

It’s taken me 40 odd years to come face to muzzle with the real thing but outside Chengdu, reportedly the fourth largest city in China, I was treated to one of the most beautiful babies Mother Nature can produce. And it was very cute, indeed.

The keepers at Bifengxia Panda Base decided I should hold a cub to make a connection with their gorgeous charges and I certainly wasn’t going to argue with them. The local folklore is that, if you are able to rub a Panda’s head, it will make you lucky for life, so with the next Lotto jackpot in mind, I grabbed the chance with both hands.

Seriously though, it’s impossible not to love these animals and knowing they are on the verge of extinction is sobering, indeed. The purpose of our trip was to focus on the plight of the Giant Panda and to see the massive breeding program the Chinese have embarked on to save the species.

Most importantly, I got to meet two very special young Panadas; Wang Wang and Funi, who will be brought to Adelaide Zoo later this year in the hope they can do their bit to help stave off extinction of the species.

Wang Wang and Funi were probably the only good things to come out of Sydney’s APEC meeting two years ago (apart from a good stunt by the Chaser boys). China’s President, Hu Jintao, described them as a conference “gift”.

Mind you, this “gift” isn’t entirely free. The Pandas are really on lease at a cost of $13 million over 10 years. And it’ll cost Adelaide Zoo another $7 million to construct a new enclosure to make them feel at home. A lot of money, but the zoo’s President, Heather Caddick, and Chief Executive, Dr Chris West, are completely committed to the project.

Unfortunately, I left China unconvinced that the ultimate goal of all this breeding - the re-introduction of Pandas to the wild - could be achieved any time soon.

And I got the impression that, somewhere along the way, the conservation message has been muddled with the importance of the Giant Panda as a lucrative tourist attraction.

China’s primary Panda research centre has become a breeding factory but all the babies produced here have little, if any, chance of surviving in the wild, partly because they have become so habituated to humans. And, ultimately, re-introduction to the wild is the only way of guaranteeing their survival.

The industrial scale of the breeding program was also a little unsettling - making the mum’s pregnant every single year, rather than once every three to four as would happen in the wild. And why are the cubs only allowed to stay with their mothers for four months rather than the 18 they would enjoy in the wild?

Nobody, much less the Chinese, wants to see the ultimate demise of these magnificent creatures and, despite the cost, creating refreshing new partnerships with places like the Adelaide Zoo can only be a good thing for both parties and, crucially, for the future of these beautiful bears.

User comments
these pandas are amazing animals and i 'love' animals, they are very precious things and we should do anything to save there species because once there gone there gone and the next generation will not have the expeience to see these wonderful creaturesif we dont act soon and that would be a shame. im 16 and looking forward of having a career with animals because i have grown up with them and there wonderful things to be around and would make every day better and these pandas are beautiful animals dont put that past you.
Putting a couple of pandas in a zoo is not going to achieve much apart from allowing people to gawp at a different animal. No pandas have ever been successfuly reintroduced to the wild and theres no point in continuing to breed and confine them. China is doing a lot to protect the animals natural habitat and this needs supporting.
I think that the government needs to do something about it i am starting my our petition with my very close friend kirrilee i am only 11 yers of age but i am still doing it i love the pandas and it is so sad to see 1600 panders left in the world!!!!!! I personly think that is a good story and i am so pashonit about it!!!
This was a nice story highlighting the plight of our animals in the wild. Its great to see China FINALLY trying to rescue animals as apposed to destroying them, although its only one breed. Has anyone thought of Chinas trade in animals & cruelty. Think of the Sun Bears caged, denailed & attached to a tube to extract their bile. These bears are in constant pain some chewing their paws off. I've visited zoos in China and they treat their bears appaullingly. Pandas are very cute, but just becase these other bears aren't so good to look at they are ignored.
Brilliant story on the Panda Breeding program & I hope that Adelaide Zoo can have some success with re-introduction techniques but what are the Pandas going to be re-introduced to? Like so many other endangered animals the world over, there is loss of habitat, global warming & other things going against them. Thank God the Chinese love the Panda, they poach tigers, snow leopards & bears for body parts for Chinese Medicines & put drainage tubes out of Moon Bears & cut the Paws off Sun Bears for Bear Paw Soup. Please keep up your brilliant coverage of animal stories 60 Minutes - great job yet again by Liam - please also show the problems for wildlife in Australia too
I have just returned from Chengdu China were there is a Panda Reserve also, and had the great privilage of holding a six month old Panda, the thrill of a life time, all must be done to save these beautiful animals. I was more then willing to pay the fee to hold the Panda knowing it was going to an excellant cause. The daytime enclosures in Chengdu were quite roomy and leafy with lots of toys including swings ,and lots to climb on and they certainly seemed to be having lots of fun, so I was happy about that, however the breeding cages left much to be desired, room for much improvement there. I live in hope that things will improve in that department in the not to distant future. We must save all the animals of the Earth, they all have a right to live.
The responsibility of trying to save the pandas should be shared not only between China and Australia but also the rest of the world. If other countries were to be given similar opportunities, this would be a good way to connect because they all have one purpose in hand which is to save the pandas.
The existence number of panda in China is on a slippery slope, so the pandas have to face a verge of extinction. In order to prevent the extinction of panda in the world, I think I will support the authority in Australia to release pandas to the wildlife instend of protecting them like pets or children because they need to learn how to be indenpendent.
the story is amazing however,in my opinion i think what the chines people should do is share the pandas with the rest of the world. so the rest of the world may take the Responsibility to adopt the pandas.
I think China should take the responsibility to help the panda although what Australian done was great. China should provide better habitat to help them learn how to attempt the wild environment but not doing the things that destroy their natural habitat. Because there are only 1600 pandas left in the world. Save the pandas!!!

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