Giant panda conservation success of China and world’s zoos celebrated in Beijing exhibition

World’s fascination with giant pandas goes back to French missionary Père David’s first account of them in 1869, and multimedia show in Beijing charts the measures taken since to conserve the iconic animals and their habitat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 1:49pm

An exhibition celebrating the origins and success of China’s giant panda conservation programme opened this week in Beijing.

Film screenings, artwork and photographs are featured in the first exhibition devoted to what its organisers call “panda culture”.

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It traces the giant panda’s journey into Western consciousness, recalling how French priest and zoologist Armand David, known as Père David, was the first foreigner to bring them to the attention of the West. The French missionary described the body of a white bear with black legs and ears in his journal in 1869 while stationed at the Dengchi Valley Cathedral in Yaan, a city in Sichuan province.

Launching the exhibition, Yang Chao, director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserve Management of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, said the threat to giant panda populations had been reduced through conservation work.

“Their number rose from 1,114 in the 1980s to 1,864 [now],” he says. “After decades of efforts, China’s captive panda breeding programme has overcome the obstacles of [female] pandas being seldom in heat, pandas’ difficult breeding and insemination and the low survival rate of cubs.”

The first captive baby panda was born in Beijing Zoo in 1963. At the end of last year, there were 518 captive giant pandas in China. Xiang Xiang was the world’s first captive panda released into the wild in 2006.

Chao said nine of the captive pandas have so far been released into the wild, and seven were still living.

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In addition to the captive pandas in China, more than 100 giant pandas live in zoos around the world. Attending the launch ceremony for the exhibition, Austrian ambassador to China Friedrich Stift said Vienna’s Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the world’s oldest zoo, received two pandas named Yang Yang and Long Hui from China in 2003 for joint research.

Yang Yang gave birth to a cub in 2007, the first panda conceived naturally in Europe, he said.

“In 2010 another young panda was born, followed by another baby in 2013. A highlight was the birth of twin babies in 2016. Yang Yang succeeded to raise the twins without any human assistance, which is unique around the world,” Stift said.

“Of the five pandas born in Vienna, three have already been returned to China. The twins, Fu Feng and Fu Ban, will be brought to China in November. It is part of the contract that after two years of their birth, the pandas have to be given back to their homeland in China.”

Stift said that since the death of male panda Long Hui in 2016 from cancer of the gall bladder, Austria had been working to get a new male panda so more pandas can be born and raised at the zoo.

“Pandas are the most popular attraction at the zoo where more than two million visitors come every year to see them,” the ambassador said.

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Chao said the number of nature conservation sanctuaries for pandas in China had risen from 15 in the 1980s to 67 now, but lamented a lack of co-ordination between some of them.

“China is building a giant panda national park to [better] adjust the animals’ distribution to attain their stable propagation,” Chao said. “The habitats of giant pandas also contain over 8,000 species of wild flora and fauna, including the golden snub-nosed monkey. So the construction of the park will not only help preserve giant pandas, but also boost the biodiversity of the whole region.”

Co-organised by the State Council Information Office, the State Forestry and Grassland Administration, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the provincial governments of Sichuan, Shanxi and Gansu, the China Giant Panda International Culture Week Exhibition runs until August 26 at the China Millennium Monument in Beijing.

An accompanying photography exhibition is being held at Zhangwang Hutong in Old Gulou Street, where 25 photos are displayed to show the pristine environment of Sichuan, the artificial insemination of pandas and programmes to release captive pandas into the wild.