Traveling in China: The Yin and Yang of Pandas

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Two kindergartners playing in the yard

The China I am seeing is the embodiment of its Confucian philosophy of Yin and Yang.Two parts in opposition to one another that make a whole. There is modernization but there is also pollution; urbanization but also the uprooting of a rural life, panda preservation but also panda business.
Pandas are a profitable business, and, I think, that is a major reason why the Chinese government has continued to support their preservation. Pandas can be rented to zoos around the country for about a half million dollars per year for a maximum number of years. At the end of that time the pandas must be returned to China.
Paul Schaller in his 1994 book, The Last Panda, decried the practice of renting out the pandas, believing they needed to be returned to the wild.

IMG_0304 IMG_0345 Panda eating bamboo
When our group first entered the Center at Befengxia we were extremely disturbed when we saw the pandas in cages with a comparatively small outside area for a run. It looked very much like a zoo of the 1960's. We had expected to have to wander paths within a large area that was specifically fenced off as a preserve to find the pandas in their natural habitat. The cages were unexpected and disconcerting. However, by the end of our stay, we were ambiguous about the conditions. As we listened to the various lectures and watched the movie "Panda-monium" we became increasingly convinced that the panda as a species could not survive if left to its own devices and, that at least at present, because the research Center had not found a way to successfully re-introduce captive pandas back into the wild, the Center may be the best way to save the Giant panda. In fact, this seems to be the conclusion that the researchers at the panda base have arrived at.

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As they explained, they had concluded that the natural area now left for the pandas could sustain about 3,000 of the bears. However, because of poaching, deforestation, and the dying out of large areas of bamboo and their slow re-growth of 7 to 10 years, as well as the poor fertility rate of the species, the panda, left on its own, would die out. It seemed to be a species destined for extinction. The research Center therefore concluded that if it was to save the species its objective needed to be to "Make more pandas."

Mother and baby

panda with baby

The Center has become a breeding Center. Much of the research being conducted is aimed at finding ways to increase the birthrate. This it is now doing successfully. The idea of the rent-a-panda program fits this objective. The pandas are being rented out as a way of enlarging the gene pool and with the hope that they will breed. The Center is keeping detailed notes of the genealogy of each panda in order to ensure that the breeding is occurring in a large gene pool.
The Center continues to study panda behavior. As I understand it, the researchers are trying to figure out what panda behaviors are the result of captivity and how to eliminate these behaviors and instead encourage behaviors that would enable pandas to be released back to the wild. The researchers' dreams are to be able to release enough pandas into the wild to maintain a population of 3,000. The Center would then continue to breed pandas to replenish the supply in the wild as it dwindled in order to maintain the population.

Me and ouutside panda

The pandas in the cages at Bifenxia where we were working are the pandas who are presently breeding. Three have given birth this summer. Most are female. One is a male.
While it would have been ideal for the pandas to be left in their natural habitat, it would have been almost impossible to study their behavior or to help them breed. Pandas are solitary and very difficult to spot as Schaller points out over and over again in his book. While poaching has been stopped to a large degree, some continues. At least for the present, the Centers appear to be the best solution to prevent the extinction of the Giant Panda.

 

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    Carolyn Boiarsky

    " I am an American," but not "Chicago born" like Augie March. Only Chicago aged. I'd like to think that if Henry Louis Gates were to investigate my geneology, he would discover in my past three women who traveled around the globe, chronicling their adventures. Sarah Kemble Knight traveled 112 miles by carriage from Boston to New York in 1704, a journey most women did not embark on alone (and men did so only with some trepidation). In fact, women were only just beginning to exercise their independence in the 1920's when Emily Kimbrough took off with her friend, Cornelia Otis Skinner, to explore Europe. But it is Auntie Mame, transforming herself from a New Yorker to the wife of an Austrian Baron and climbing the Matterhorn, whose mantra I have adopted. "LIFE IS A BANQUET...LIVE!" I began travelling in the 1960's when I traveled around western Europe between graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and my first job as a statehouse correspondent for UPI (United Press International) in Charleston, West Virginia, which was about as foreign a place as Europe was to someone who grew up in the environs of Philadelphia. Since then, I've also traveled to Kaunas, Lithuania, to teach at Vytautus Magnus University and to Sheffield, England, to present a paper at an engineering conference. I've been to the Alps and seen Auntie Mame's Matterhorn while climbing, by a series of cable cars rather than by foot, toward the peak of Mont Blanc. For 10 years my husband and I traveled to unique places: a sheep farm during lambing season in England's Lake Country, a hotel on one of the Barromeo Islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, and a cottage in Dun Quin on the Dingle Peninsula which the Irish claim is the last parish before Boston. Between excursions, I'm a professor in the Department of English at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana,. My husband passed away recently and, Auntie Mame-style, I am in the process of transforming myself. I've joined a tour to Central Asia and traveled to China to work with the pandas. Two years ago, I returned to Europe--Inreland, England, and France--to present a paper at a Conference and then visit friends. It's 2017 now and London once again draws me in. This time I'm fulfilling my dream of taking my grandchildren to Europe. I've rented a flat near Hyde Park and ordered London passes for everyone. A new adventure. Old friends. Another banquet.

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