- Cubs are only allowed to interact with workers dressed as pandas and smelling like them to ‘erase human beings’ from their memory
- The pictures of the panda carers have been viewed millions of times and attracted thousands of humorous comments
Workers at a wildlife sanctuary in China wearing panda costumes smeared with the bear’s faeces and urine have trended on mainland social media, under the hashtag “Aren’t pandas afraid?”
Keepers at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwest China’s Sichuan province in the waste-smeared suits caring for pandas were brought to the public’s attention after an influencer posted pictures online earlier this month.
“Aren’t pandas afraid?” wrote influencer known as Chi Bu Pang De Xiao Wu in the post. “Although the staff are trying their best to reduce the impact of human beings on pandas, I still feel a bit weird.”
He also included a paragraph explaining the reason for wearing the suits is to reduce human interactions with the animals to zero before the bears are eventually released into the wild.
“In order to erase human beings in the memory of the pandas, these panda cubs will only interact with the keepers dressed in panda costumes. The clothes are also smeared with bear’s faeces and urine,” he wrote.
The photos have been viewed 25 million times on Weibo and attracted thousands of humorous comments
“I don’t know if the pandas are frightened or not. But I am pretty scared,” wrote one person.
“At first sight, I can tell they are fake. Can’t pandas see that too?” another user said.
“Those pandas that are released into the wild will think to themselves: why are there no pandas I often saw in my childhood that can stand up and walk? Have they gone extinct?” another user commented.
Liu Dingzhen, a professor from Beijing Normal University, said the idea of panda costumes was suggested in 2008 when he and other experts were training workers at the Wolong reserve for the panda rewilding project.
“We hope after years of training, these pandas will avoid human beings, rather than relying on them when they are released into nature,” Liu, who is also the secretary general of the Animal Behaviour Society of China and the China Zoological Society, told Science and Technology Daily.
“Later we even put the faeces and urine on the suits aiming to make the pandas believe this is a real panda, not a human,” he added.
The academic said they concluded the panda suits are effective after observing the pandas’ behaviour in training and following their release into the wild.
“For example, at the reserve when a panda cub was left alone while its mother went to look for food, if it heard a sound of humans it would hide and observe quietly instead of approaching them,” Liu explained.
According to the country’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration, there are 673 pandas living in captivity around the world, a majority of them are in China. A total of 1,864 pandas live in the wild globally, said the authority.