Menu
Return to Blog

In April, I was in China for National Geographic Magazine working on my dream project about the rewilding of giant pandas. As conservation icons go, nothing quite beats the giant panda. Instantly recognizable worldwide, adored by billions, a virtual brand whose resemblance to anything wild is as tenuous as it is rare.

Ever since President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons, Theodore and Kermit shot one, in 1928, in the wilds of Sichuan, China, the western world has coveted the clownish, adorable animal and zoos today pay millions of dollars to mount exhibits where panda “ambassadors” on loan from China never fails to attract a crowd.

There are approximately 1,864 giant pandas in the world

Many conservationists privately consider them a relict species: taxonomically unique, shy, and inexorably drifting towards extinction. Their breeding secrets have for decades resisted the prying efforts of zoos and their mountainous bamboo forests have been besieged and fragmented by agriculture.

Chinese scientists and their international counterparts have cracked the puzzle of successfully breeding pandas in captivity and now they are sending these captive born pandas back into the wild. In a region where bad environmental news is common, the giant panda might prove to be the exception and a testament to Chinese conservationists’ perseverance and efforts. By breeding and releasing pandas, augmenting existing populations, and protecting habitats, China may be on its way to successfully saving its most famous ambassador, and in the process put the wild back into an icon.

You May Also Enjoy



Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas – A New Book from Ami Vitale

Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas – A New Book from Ami Vitale

The giant panda is everyone’s favorite bamboo-munching bear. Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas is a collection of incredible images of these gentle giants. Ami Vitale’s stunning photographs on location in China document the efforts to breed pandas and release them back into the wild. Ami was given unprecedented access to the pandas and [ … ]

Read More

Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them

Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them

I am very excited to share an important and hopeful story in Northern Kenya. At the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, the local Samburu community is helping to save what is left of Kenya’s wildlife. What’s happening here at Reteti, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way Samburus relate to [ … ]

Read More

How to Save the World’s Tallest Animal

How to Save the World’s Tallest Animal

The giraffe population has plummeted more than 40 percent over the past 30 years. To make matters worse, scientists know relatively little about giraffe behavior. But a group of scientists and wildlife experts is working to untangle the mystery behind these animals’ rapid decline. In early June, I followed a group from the San Diego Zoo [ … ]

Read More