While watching those cute panda videos, you often see the adorable bears’ caretakers wearing disposable protective gears. However, for keepers at the Wolong National Reserve in the Sichuan province of China, it’s a different scenario.
For the said reserve, run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, one of the main objectives is to prepare selected cubs to be released into a protected wildlife, where they can thrive and live naturally.
To carry out this “rewilding project”, it is necessary to reduce as much human interactions as possible or even erase the pandas’ memories of human beings so they would not be dependent on humans once living in the wild, and be able to survive on their own.
To do this, workers at the sanctuary wear panda suits while doing their duties, even going as far as having these costumes smeared with the bear’s excrements and urine to mimic the natural scent of the species.
According to Liu Dingzhen, a professor from Beijing Normal University, the idea of panda costumes was suggested back in 2008 while conducting trainings at the Wolong National Nature Reserve.
In an interview with Science and Technology Daily, Liu said: “We hope after years of training, these pandas will avoid human beings, rather than relying on them when they are released into nature.”
Liu, also the secretary-general of the Animal Behavior Society of China and the China Zoological Society, said the panda suits indeed had a significant effect on the pandas’ behavior, explaining how a cub would hide and observe quietly from afar after hearing human sounds, instead of approaching them.
The selected cubs, before being released into the wild, are transitioned into different enclosures that become larger and larger. According to Zhang Hemin, director of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, for a panda to qualify to be released into wildlife, it must be wary of other animals and humans, and be capable of finding food and shelter unaided.