National Geographic : 2016 Aug
Pandas Gone Wild 75 to cooperate on pandas with the Chinese gov- ernment. WWF sent renowned biologist George Schaller to conduct research that became the basis for what we know of pandas today. Papa Panda—so nicknamed because bears in labor at the centers seem to hold off giving birth until Zhang arrives and because of his devotion to the animals—worked with Schaller in the field. “It was then that I learned to deeply love the panda,” he told me, patting his heart. He had a favorite bear then, a curious female who man- gled his teakettle and stole his food one snowy night before taking over his tent. “She wouldn’t go away. She used it for months, coming back each night, leaving me gifts of feces in my bed.” These days, select cubs are trained for life in the wild at Hetaoping. Keepers wear full-body panda costumes scented with pan- da urine so that young bears don’t get used to humans. A cub here remains with its mother, and over two years, while in her care, he or she is eased toward wildness. After a year or so, the pair is moved to a large, fenced-in habitat up the mountain where the mother can continue coaching her offspring until the youngster is released—if deemed fit for freedom. To qual- ify, Zhang explained, a young panda must be independent; wary of other animals, including Caretaker Li Feng cradles her precious charge by the window of Bifengxia’s panda nursery, the most popular stop for visitors touring the facilities. More than 400,000 people visit each year to glimpse and snap photos of China’s most beloved baby animals.