Monday, November 8, 2010

A Giant Discovery

Magnet # 388:  Giant Panda Bear

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Gina

Giant panda bears are so beloved in China and worldwide nowadays that's hard to imagine there was ever a time when their very existence came into doubt.  But back in the early 1900's, the Western world had never seen pandas and had to take the word of the Chinese that they were even real.  For centuries, the rulers of China had considered them to be rare and noble creatures and they were referred to in ancient books.  The burial chamber of the mother of Emperor Wen of Han had included a panda skull, while other royalty had presented the animals to other Asian nations as a gesture of goodwill.  The West was first introduced to concept of the Giant panda on March 11, 1896 when a local hunter gave French missionary and naturalist Armand David, who was living in Beijing at the time, the fur of one.  Even then, many claimed that such a creature was a hoax and the hunt raged to prove it was, in fact, real.  The animal became a sort of Bigfoot during that time, an elusive figure sought by the world.  And tomorrow, November 9th of 1927, was the day when the first Giant panda was ever captured and the world could no longer question its existence.

Since the reality of the Giant panda bear was confirmed to the Western world, it has gone on to become very popular and even a symbol of China, replacing the dragon.  About a decade after its discovery, a Giant panda cub was taken out of China by a German zoologist and it went on to live at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo.  Eager crowds came in droves to see him, even celebrities like Shirley Temple and Helen Hayes.  Unfortunately, he passed away in 1938 and his body is now on display at the Field Museum of Natural History.  Luckily, by then the zoo had taken in another panda.  And London was able to acquire five of the creatures as well that year, but due to increasing tension and wars, they ceased to be sent around the world temporarily.  But the Panda diplomacy, as its been called, was revived in the 1950s as China began to renew its contact with the rest of the world.  In 1972, a pair of two Giant pandas were sent to President Richard Nixon after his visit to the People's Republic of China, the first ever made by a United States president.  They were housed at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and drew in a crowd of 20,000 on their first day and well over a million during their first year.  The gift inspired British Prime Minister Edward Heath to request a pair of Giant pandas for his own country when he traveled to China in 1974.  Within weeks, they had arrived at the London Zoo.  Since then, China has become more regimented in exporting the animals, only making them available to other nations as part of a 10-year loan.  The nation receiving the pandas may pay as much as a million dollars a year in fees for the privilege of housing them and any cubs born to them legally belong to China.  With around 280 pandas residing at zoos, there aren't many countries around the world with them on display at their zoos, but Australia, Japan, Spain, Thailand, Austria, Germany, Scotland, and Mexico all have them.  Here in the United States, the National Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and Zoo Atlanta are the only four places to see them.  And just this month, a cub was born at Zoo Atlanta.  It's the only panda birth of 2010, but the third to be created between the two pandas housed there, all products of artificial insemination.  The public won't be able to view the newborn on display until Spring of next year, but if you're curious to check it out, have a look at the zoo's online "PandaCam."  And, per Chinese tradition, it won't be named until it's 100 days old.  When the youngest panda in the world is finally put before the public, I may have to venture up to see it myself.  While creating this post, I've realized that I have yet to see a Giant panda for myself and I think I'd really enjoy it.

We've certainly come a long way since that first Giant panda was caught in 1927.  The adorable creature become a symbol of conservation worldwide, and great effort has gone into ensuring its survival.  It's current status is endangered and as many as 3,000 may be out in the wild.  Many believe that the attention that's gone into saving them has really paid off.  But it's not only been important in bringing increased awareness to the plight of all endangered species.  The finding of the Giant panda has made it part of a group of animals that, despite the doubt of naysayers, have been proven to exist.  Others in this category include the platypus, Komodo dragon, Lowland Gorilla, coelacanth, and okapi.  These creatures were once considered to be cryptids, creatures who some believe exist, but the scientific community does not recognize.  Often, when they're discovered, people tend to forget their former murky status.  But the Giant panda and its fellow former cryptids certainly put forth an intriguing question - just what else it out there in the wild, waiting to make its debut to the rest of the world?


  1. You're right; it does make you think that other species may be in limited locations that the rest of the world has never seen.

  2. And I guess it's just a matter of time until another one surfaces.