THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY HONG KONG
"How we saved the Panda"
Professor Zhang Hemin
Director, Wolong Panda Reserve Administration
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Pacific Place Conference Centre,
5/F One Pacific Place, Admiralty
(for members who have not attended this venue before,
this is a luxurious modern conference facility in Pacific Place
near Admiralty MTR)
Drinks Reception 7.00 pm; Lecture 8.00 pm
We are delighted to welcome to Hong Kong Professor Zhang Hemin, Director of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administration and the associated Wolong Panda Breeding Centre, known in China as the "father" of pandas, to speak on "How we saved the Panda". In this lecture, he speaks about the journey from failure to success of the Reserve, the Wolong pandas both wild and captive, each enriched by stunning photography.
Professor Zhang graduated in biology from Sichuan University in 1983, when giant pandas were facing a food crisis as the arrow bamboo was being deforested in many areas. This slowmaturing plant is the only food source of the giant panda and takes a decade to grow. Professor Zhang went straight from university to work at Wolong and began rescuing starving pandas. At that time Wolong had only ten pandas, so work on their propagation and research was very tough, with a limited budget and almost no assistance from the Chinese government.
In 1987, Professor Zhang realised that if any progress was to be made Western expertise was required and went to the University of Idaho in the United States to gain a masters' degree on nature reserve management, specialising in breeding, diseases, diet, population control and habitat changes. He returned to China to lead a breakthrough on panda propagation.
Though the World Wildlife Fund dispatched foreign experts to China many times, only one panda was born in ten years and didn't survive. In 1992, Professor Zhang saw a most encouraging moment when a panda successfully gave birth to a cub, which was also the first successful artificial birth at Zhang's research centre, however, again the cub did not survive. Experiencing failure after failure, Professor Zhang began to recognise that the biggest obstacle to propagation is pandas' emotions. He requested the staff taking care of pandas to communicate with them while feeding, even singing songs. The Reserve also famously showed films of "panda pornography" to assist the adult pandas in "getting the idea".
Pandas seem calm but retain some of the temperament of their carnivorous cousins. One day in 1995, a twoyearold panda, Yingying, bit Professor Zhang on the lower leg and left him in hospital for three months. Zhang decided to keep the panda and Yingying is now the star mother of the centre, giving birth to 15 cubs with seven twins. From 1992 to 2006, artificial feeding pandas increased from 10 to 119 in Wolong. Among them, 94 were propagated artificially, accounting for about 50 per cent. of all pandas in captivity in the world.
In December 2001, Professor Zhang became Director of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administration. His priorities are to adjust yet further to local conditions, greatly increase wild areas for the pandas to roam, encouraging local people to plant bamboo and setting up a fair trade system. The recent Sichuan earthquake severely damaged the panda centre at Wolong and Professor Zhang led the national effort to rescue the pandas. Following reconstruction, Professor Zhang plans to build a propagation centre capable of holding 300 pandas in Wolong.
Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$100 for Members and HK$150 for others.
The Royal Geographical Society apologises to Members for the short notice of this lecture, because Professor Zhang was only able to offer availability to lecture this morning. We are delighted, though, to be able to offer Members a third lecture in our Chinathemed series this month.