Founded 51 years ago, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is a byword for environmentalism the world over. It helps that their logo, a giant panda, is one of the most recognisable designs ever. Chosen for its endangered status and striking looks, the panda has been a strong symbol of what the group stands for and continues to inspire green warriors.
Not just black and white
The first Westerner to ever see a live panda was German zoologist Hugo Weigold in 1916.
The panda logo of WWF comes from a panda named Chi Chi, an inmate of London Zoo and the only panda in the Western world. The organisation picked the panda as it needed an animal symbol that would make an impact in black and white printing.
The giant panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. While there are about 270 pandas in captivity in zoos around the world, the number in the wild is conservatively estimated to be around 1,600.
While adult male pandas weigh around 160kg and adult females can weigh up to 125kg, a newborn will weigh only 100-200gm.
The panda has a ‘thumb’, a modified sesamoid bone which helps the giant panda to hold the bamboo while eating.
In early Chinese writing and in Taiwan, the giant panda is often called a “large bear cat”, probably inspired by the giant panda’s eyes, which have cat-like vertical slits for pupils while most bears have round pupils.
Pandas are among the most expensive animals to keep in a zoo, costing five times more than the upkeep of an elephant.
Panda tea is a type of tea grown in the Sichuan mountains and fertilised with the dung of pandas. It is reportedly the most expensive tea in the world, with 50gm of the tea being sold for $3,500.
Panda diplomacy is a term used to describe China’s use of giant pandas as diplomatic gifts to other countries. The first known instance of this was during the Tang dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor.
Between 1958 and 1982, China gifted 23 pandas to nine countries. A well-known example is when China sent two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to the US after President Richard Nixon’s visit to China. The pandas, housed in a zoo in Washington DC, were wildly popular and over 1.1 million people visited them within the first year of their arrival.
After 1984, however, China started offering pandas to countries only on a ten-year loan. The standard loan terms include a fee of up to US $1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born will be the property of the People’s Republic of China. Since 1998, because of a World Wildlife Fund lawsuit, the US Fish and Wildlife Service allows a US zoo to import a panda only if the zoo can ensure that China will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for wild pandas and their habitat.
In 2006, an image of then US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick holding a panda cub was widely broadcast by the Chinese media, interpreted as a sign that Zoellick supported closer ties between China and the US.
China is expected to loan two pandas to Canada starting in 2013. News reports tagged the story as Harper’s panda diplomacy, with reference to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Pandas in popular culture
Kung Fu Panda, a 2008 animation movie, tells the story of Po, a rotund giant panda, who has to learn kung fu to save his country.
Cars used by the British police are often called pandas, for their distinctive black/blue and white colouration.
Google Panda is a search results ranking algorithm, which puts ‘high-quality’ sites near the top of the search results.
The title of the book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which stresses the importance of punctuation, comes from a joke about a panda who walks into a cafe and orders a sandwich. After eating, he shoots the waiter and walks out. When the manager questions him, he gives him a wildlife guide which states: “Panda. Black-and-white mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
Jingjing, one of the mascots for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is a giant panda.