This past summer my long time friend Paula Winchester who when I was a student at William Jewell College worked with me at the Kansas City Museum of History and Science, sent me an invitation to a virtual birthday party for Xiao Qi Ji, a male panda cub born at the National Zoo on August 20, 2020. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, but was reminded of my long time love for pandas.
My panda adventure began when I was a sophomore at WJC and I wrote a paper for my biology class on the classification of pandas and the ongoing debate as to if pandas should be classified in the raccoon family or the bear family. The debate was finally settled decades later when molecular studies indicated that the giant panda is a true bear and part of the family Ursidae.
In 1972 I took a summer job as a zookeeper at the Buffalo Zoo at the same time people all across the country were excited about China’s gift to President Nixon of a pair of giant pandas to the National Zoo. That same year I was very fortunate to be invited by the Zoo’s Director Theodore Reed to see Ling-Ling (Chinese: 玲玲, 1969–92) and Hsing-Hsing (simplified Chinese: 兴兴; traditional Chinese: 興興, 1970–99) in their temporary enclosure. I took an 8mm movie film of my visit and soon began to read every magazine article on pandas I could find plus books about pandas as I immersed myself in learning everything I could about them. Soon I started to dream about going to see pandas in China, a dream that was realized in 2004 on a two country trip when I traveled to Japan to attend a Rotary International Convention in Osaka.
Looking back on that day I was a pretty brave traveler making the trip alone and not knowing how to speak Chinese. On an earlier trip I made in 1999 I learned from a friend I visited in Guangzhou how to survive not knowing how to speak the language.
When I was in college I purchased an art print of two pandas in the wild. That framed print was hanging on the wall in my house for nearly 30 years and I often tell the story of how to keep your dreams on your radar screen every day it helps to have a picture of that dream close by.
My visit to the Wolong Panda Center and Nature Reserve was simply amazing and I was able to document the best parts of my trip using my Sony Handycam. The Wolong center has since been relocated to Chengdu. Geological studies confirmed the danger of rebuilding at the original Wolong Panda Center that was seriously damaged by an earthquake. Wolong integrates scientific research, captive breeding and reintroduction into the wild. If you watch my two part video you can learn more. Thanks to the efforts of the Chengdu and Wolong Centers the number of pandas in the wild has increased from about a 1000 to nearly 2000!
If you don’t want to watch the entire 50 minute video in two parts skip to part 2 to see my favorite clip of me holding a baby panda starting a minute 2:30. When you see the joy on my face and in my voice you will better understand the title of this blog today.