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Latest Update: 2010/12/02

History of Giant Panda Diplomacy

Giant Panda(by Cheng, Yu-Yen)

According to historical account, back in 685 A.D. in the Tang Dynasty, Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor Temmu, which marked the very beginning of panda diplomacy. After 1949, panda diplomacy has transformed into three phases: national gift, commercial demonstration, and scientific exchange.

  • From 1957-1982, in the name of "ambassadors of peace", 23 giant pandas were sent to nine countries, including the USSR, Korea, the United States, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico and Spain. They served as national gifts for furtherance of respective bilateral relations.
  • In 1982, to conserve the endangered giant panda population and to entrench China's sovereignty, China no longer sent giant pandas abroad as gifts. Instead, China began to receive many applications for short-term giant panda loans on commercial terms. The World Wildlife Fund ("WWF"), the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as other international or national conservation organizations, realized that such commercial loans will not only affect the breeding and reproduction programs of giant pandas in captivity; but can also lead to the unintended encouragement of hunting wild giant pandas by benefiting those hunters. Due to active interventions by such organizations, China ceased such commercial loans of giant pandas in 1988.
  • Afterwards, through negotiations among the China Wildlife Conservation Association, the China Zoo Association and international organizations, a basic protocol was set forth to sending giant pandas overseas for scientific exchange. China would send out a pair of giant pandas with reproductive capacities to residential countries and have them stay there for cooperative researches. Up until 2006, 31 giant pandas have been sent to 11 zoos located in six countries, including the United States, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Austria, and Thailand, for participation in cooperative research projects held there.

Conservation of Wildlife Giant Pandas

Giant Panda(by Cheng, Yu-Yen)

Due to deforestation, reclaiming and cultivation, transportation development and other human activity disturbance, giant pandas' natural habitats have hugely declined and become fragmented. Early surviving giant pandas can still be found in their original habitats of upstream branches of Yangtze River and the six slice areas of transit slopes on the east rim of Tibetan Plateau facing Sichuan Basin. These areas include the mountain chains of Mountain Min, Mountain Qilai, Mountain Liang, Daxiangling Mountains, Xiaoxiangling Mountains, and Qingling Mountains. That individual giant pandas are forced to live in fragmented areas has made matters worse for the survival of a species that is already struggling in estrous, mating, and breeding. The number of giant pandas once declined to less than 1,000.

In 1979, the WWF launched giant panda projects and provided funding for the conservation of giant pandas. The WWF even uses the logo of the giant panda as the emblem of the foundation, so as to demonstrate its mission of conserving giant pandas and other endangered species.

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, China(by Cheng, Yu-Yen)

In 1988, China officially announced the "Wildlife Animal Protection Act", and the Forestry Ministry and Agriculture Ministry in their joint announcement afterwards classified giant panda as the National First Class Protected Animal. After the first survey was conducted, there were giant panda reserves set up, such as River Tangjia at Qingchuan, Jiuzhaigou at Jiuzhaigou County, Xiaozhaizigou of River Bei, Fengtongzhai at Baoxing, Dafengding at Mabian, Foping at Fopingxian, River Baishui at Wen County aside from Wolong Natural Reserve. These reserves total 6,444.9 square kilometers in area. The WWF and China made a joint announcement in 1993 for a ten-year giant panda conservation strategy, in view of raising conservatory funds for the establishment of reserves and relevant operation and management. Although setting wildlife habitat conservation as the first priority, the conservation strategy also emphasizes on the research and education of captive individual giant pandas, which includes scientific management, establishment of certified pedigrees, basic biological and reproductive researches. Currently, the number of reserves that provide a relatively safe refuge has increased from 13 to 50, which amounts to 10,400 square kilometers in area. Meanwhile, five giant panda ecological corridors have been established.

red panda(by Cheng, Yu-Yen)

As a matter of fact, the elimination of deforestation and the establishment of reserves will not only benefit the survival of wild giant pandas, but also species such as snub-nosed monkeys, antelopes, red pandas, Chinese monals, Temminck's Tragopans, and other sympatric species. According to the latest survey, wild giant pandas have increased to over 1,600.

The earthquake in Sichuan on May 12, 2008 has made unprecedented impact on the conservation of giant pandas in their original habitats. It remains unclear how many wild giant pandas were lost in the earthquake. This earthquake demonstrated that captive giant pandas raised in dispersive places are vital to the safety of the species.

Conservatory Value of Captive Giant Pandas

Giant Panda(by Chin, Shih-Chien)

Given that the wild animals' natural habitats are being destroyed, the role of ex-situ conservations played by zoos is all the more important. Species such as Mongolian Wild Horse, Arabian Oryx, Pere David's deer, black-footed ferret, California Condor, were once extinct in the wild. They are now successful cases that have undergone conservatory breeding and reproduction in the zoo, then reintroduced into the wildness.

All zoos that have giant pandas in captivity are making their own contributions to the conservation of giant pandas.

Institute Population and Genetics Behavior and Ecology Reproduction and Physiology Zoological Nutrition Medication and Pathology Field Investigation

Wolong National Nature Reserve (Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries), China

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, China

Smithsonian National Zoological Park, U.S.A.

San Diego Zoo, U.S.A.

Atlanta Fulton County Zoo, U.S.A.

Memphis Zoo, U.S.A.


Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico


Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Vienna Zoo), Austria


Berlin Zoo, Germany


Zoo Aduarium de Madrid, Spain


Oji Zoo, Kobe, Japan


Ueno Zoological Gardens, Tokyo, Japan
(Last giant panda died on April 30, 2008)


Adventure World in Shirahama, Wakayama, Japan


Chiangmai Zoo, Thailand


Ocean Park, Hong Kong SAR

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