Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

A cuddly flagship species of conservation

By Chen Liang (China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-22 10:18

A cuddly flagship species of conservation

File photo taken on Jan 27, 2016 shows giant panda Ximei training her cub to climb tree during a wild training in Hetaoping Wild Training Base, Southwest China's Sichuan province. With the increasing number of giant pandas bred and kept in captivity, China started sending captive-bred pandas into the wild in 2006 in an effort to improve the genetic diversity and quality of the species. [Photo/Xinhua]

I'm not a fan of giant pandas, though they are cute and cuddly, and their unusual upright-sitting pose, bamboo diet, black-and-white fur and big eyes — thanks their eye patches — give them a comic appearance. And I know they are shy, and rare in the wild.

In particular, I don't like the fact that people's obsession with pandas has helped them steal the thunder of all the other animals in China. Many such animals are much more endangered in the wild — for example, different species of gibbons in China and the spoon-billed sandpiper, a sparrow-sized bird, just about 500 of which survive.

In fact, the panda is no longer endangered, as the International Union for Conservation of Nature recently downgraded its status from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on its red list of threatened species, because its numbers in the wild have been rising.

But monkeys and birds can't compete with pandas when it comes to attracting eyeballs in this age of social media. Video clips of pandas are omnipresent on the internet, many of which have been viewed by millions of netizens.

One such hit video shows a giant panda, named Meng Lan, "talking" to her caretaker who speaks the Sichuan dialect at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

In the video clip streamed to popular Chinese micro blog Sina Weibo, the keeper is seen carrying the giant panda, which weighs 30 kilograms, in his arms. While walking, the keeper is seen talking with the animal in the Sichuan dialect. "Fatty, you're so heavy." "Are you fat?" "Who is this fatty weighing more than 30 kg?" In response to each of the keeper's questions, the panda essays a girlish "en", which sounds like "yes" to a Sichuan native like me.

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