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Discovering Giant Pandas

Armand David was born in 1826 in a small town in the French Pyrenees. He has been fond of the nature since he was a child, and he was a famous naturalist in the local area. In 1851, David officially became a Catholic cleric. 

A year later, he proposed to preach in China, yet his request was not granted until 10 years later, and David had turned 36 years old that year.

On 11th March, 1869, he went to the peak of Hongshan to inspect and on his way of return, he took a rest in a farmer’s house, and this farmer’s name was Li. On the wall next to the fire pit, a black and white fur had aroused his great interest. 

Was there a black and white beast in the world? The owner told him that this is a beast hidden in this mountainous alpine jungle, and the fellows called it the “flower bear.”

About 10 days later, a local fellow sent over a bear cub. After all the transportation, the cub had already stopped breathing when it arrived in the hands of David.

According to the strict regulations of animal taxonomy, it is impossible to identify the species by just observing the fur, even the bones. On 1st April of that year, a hunter caught a living “flower bear” and showed it in front of David.  

This was an adult giant panda, full of vitality and energy.

In the evening, David hurriedly wrote a report to Miller Edwards, the Director of the Natural History Museum in Paris. Based on the fur and the skeleton of the giant panda and David’s report, Miller Edwards made a conclusion – this is a rare new species of animals in the world, initially named as the “black and white bear.” Later, in view of the discovery of Lesser Panda which ate bamboo in the Himalayas, zoologists named the “black and white bear” as Giant Panda.

In 1870, the specimens of giant panda attracted a lot of attention after being unveiled at the Natural History Museum in Paris, and had greatly stimulated the curiosity of Western explorers.

In November 1936, the American fashion designer, Ruth Hakenssen arrived at a grassland in Wenchuan, and soon got a giant panda cub aged less than 100 days, named “Su Lin.” She managed to take “Su Lin” out of Chinese customs, traveled across the Pacific Ocean and arrived in the United States on Christmas Eve. 

On 18th February, 1937, after thorough preparation, Su Lin finally met the American public at the Chicago Zoo. On the first day, 53,000 people rushed into the zoo, marking the highest record until today.

On 1st April, 1938, “Su Lin” died of acute pneumonia, it had only lived for about one year.

Since 1985, according to the situation of the resources of giant pandas and the spirit of the CITES Convention, the Chinese government has stopped giving away giant pandas (including exchanges), and has provided giant pandas in the form of cooperative research. 

As of December 2018, China has carried out 22 cooperation researches in 17 countries, including Japan, the United States, Austria, Thailand, Spain, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Singapore, Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, South Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, Indonesia and Finland. There were 56 giant pandas and their cubs involved in the research.

In March 1978, the giant panda expert, Professor Hu Jinxi led the team and created the first giant panda field observation station “May 1 shed” in Wolong Nature Reserve. Previously, according to a four-year field survey conducted by Hu Jinxi and the others, people knew more about the difficult living conditions of ¾ of giant pandas living in Sichuan. 

In 1980, China and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) collaborated on the research on giant pandas, and George Schaller came to China as the chief expert of WWF.

Chinese and foreign expert groups cooperated for five years, and wrote the most authoritative monograph on the bioecology of giant pandas.

Schaller also wrote a bestselling book, “The Last Panda,” depicting the beauty of the giant pandas and the forests they inhabit, making readers ponder profoundly the fate of the giant pandas.

In the 1990s, China began to implement projects off natural forest protection, and issued a logging ban on the Forest Industry Bureau in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

It also set up large-scale nature reserves to protect the habitat of giant pandas. At the same time, China proactively tried to break through the harsh situation of the artificial breeding of giant pandas, which is “difficult to conceive, difficult to breed,” and tried to implement “Ex Situ Conservation.”

In the 1980s, it was not easy for giant pandas to give birth to one or two pups a year. Once we’re in the new century, there are several pups born each year. By 2018, the number of artificially bred giant pandas had reached 548. 

After the success of the “Ex Situ Conservation”, the relevant units have implemented the “plan of releasing in the wild” non-stop, sending the “breeding players” which can adapt to the wild life to the giant panda population distributed in the isolated islands, so that the population can rejuvenate and revive the whole giant panda family. 

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