Astonishing Animals – The Panda
On World Animal Day we look at the panda's remarkable role in wildlife conservation
Our new book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World, features some pretty remarkable wildlife, from ultraviolent fish to very hairy bees. However, this panda cub was included in the book less on the strength of its remarkable natural features, and more on the merits of its relationship with mankind.
“A human dressed in an unconvincing panda suit, wellington boots and gloves cradles a panda cub (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) in a conservation centre in China in this image from a series taken by US photographer Ami Vitale,” explains our book. “It might appear uncanny, but such interaction helps juvenile pandas to develop, although the researchers’ costumes are impregnated with panda scent in order to prevent the animals from becoming too familiar with humans – a condition that could cost them their lives once they are released into the wild.
“Vitale, an illustrious war photographer, felt the need to use her photographic skills in a positive and constructive setting after experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, and spent three years working closely with the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, recording a unique and eclectic insight into its day-to-day activities.
"By the 1970s, the giant panda had become the emblem of endangered animals around the world. From becoming the logo of the World Wildlife Fund (now the World Wide Fund for Nature) to filling toy shop shelves in the form of plush playthings, the ubiquitous presence of pandas in recent popular culture represents an unprecedented conservation success story.
“The human population boom in China since 1949 has meant habitat loss for this most distinctive vegetarian bear, but since the 1990s successful breeding programmes have brought panda numbers back to safer levels, so much so that in 2016 the species was reclassified from ‘endangered’ to merely ‘vulnerable’.”
You can see this image, alongside more than 300 other ways we have documented the animals around us throughout time by ordering a copy of Animal: Exploring the Zoological World here. Check out our previous stories from the book on Sir Edwin Landseer's Monarch of the Glen, Underwater photographer Alexander Semenov's Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Cai Guo-Qing's Heritage, Jill Greenberg's Diana Monkey Nick Veasey's Fruit Bat, The Sweat Bee and The Steppe Bison.