Chinese museum unveils ‘world’s first’ plastinated giant panda

Female animal who died at research facility was preserved using bioplastic technology to raise awareness of species and its conservation, museum says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 6:13pm

A giant panda preserved in plastic went on display in southwest China on Wednesday, in what the museum claims is a world first, state media reports.

The plastinated remains of female panda Xin Nier, who died in February 2016 at a research and breeding facility in Sichuan province, was unveiled at the Mystery of Life Museum in Chengdu.

Museum founder Wang Hongjin collaborated with the Bifengxia giant panda base in Yaan to preserve the panda, and it is believed to be the first such specimen in the world.

The project was aimed at raising awareness of the species and its conservation, the museum told China News Service.

Plastination preserves a specimen’s organs or muscles, whereas taxidermy does not.

The panda’s skin, muscles, bones and internal organs were all preserved in the process, while water and fat were replaced with plastic, Science and Technology Daily reported.

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“Bioplastic technology is a special technology that can preserve tissue as though it is a living organism, and is widely used in many fields,” Wu Jin, director of the museum, was quoted as saying.

“The theory behind long-term preservation is to replace the water, fat and other substances in the tissue with a high polymer material.”

Formalin liquid is first poured into the specimen’s tissue to sterilise and fix it into shape, Wu said. The nervous system, muscles, bones and internal organs are taken out, while the remaining tissue is dehydrated, before the plastic is poured in to harden and hold its shape.

He said it was the most advanced technology for preserving specimens and they did not decay or smell, while most of their properties retained their original form.

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The fur of animal specimens that have been preserved in more traditional ways has to be maintained at least twice a year, he told the newspaper, but those that have been plastinated can be wiped clean.

In August, a science museum in the northeast was criticised for putting a taxidermied giant panda on show, with people questioning the need to stuff a panda and accusing the museum of profiting from the specimen.

Sichuan is known as the home of the giant panda, China’s national treasure. The country has invested heavily in panda conservation, establishing nature reserves, planting bamboo forests and setting up breeding programmes. It also plans to open a huge Giant Panda National Park in 2020, linking dozens of isolated habitats.

Panda numbers have rebounded in the past decade because of conservation efforts – national surveys put the wild population at 1,864 in 2014, far fewer than 40 years ago but up slightly from a decade earlier – prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature to lower its status from “endangered” to “vulnerable” in 2016.