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The Work of the WWF

the poster child of the World Wildlife Fund's threatened and endangered species is of course the panda – the Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca subspecies, to be more exact, or the black and white panda. However, the enormous amount of work undertaken by the WWF is truly a big-picture effort, where entire biotopes are gradually restored to their original diversity, benefitting not only the poster child, but many other of the respective habitat's "orphans", as it were, including numerous plants as well as animals that are threatened or endangered – locally if not globally – not to speak of the myriad of insects, some of these as well "in the danger zone", on which many of these species depend. Restoring a habitat is therefore a daunting task, involving a long-term commitment to the restoration of all of the links in the "food chain" of the habitat in question.

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But this article is about the panda, therefore we will focus in this chapter on WWF's partnership with the government of China aimed at, firstly, saving the panda, then gradually helping to usher the panda beyond its critical status of endangerment by restoring the habitats where it lives (friends of the panda would probably like to urge the WWF to form similar partnerships with the governments of Burma (Myanmar) and Vietnam, aimed at seeing giant panda habitats restored in those two former panda homelands as well).

Cute Pandas in China

The WWF's "panda partnership" with the Chinese government encompases the long-term work of restoring the giant panda's natural habitats in the Minshan and Qinling Mountain Ranges of southwestern China, as well as the research & breeding work that is carried out at special centers in China, such as:

The giant panda Research & Breeding Base at Mount Futou, located on the northern perimeter of the city of Chengdu, Sichuan Province,

The Wolong National Nature Reserve, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, located about 140 kilometers northwest of Chengdu along the north-south oriented (at least at this location) National Highway G213, near the intersection with the east-west oriented (same caveat as above) National Highway G317, and

The Bifengxia Panda Base, city of Ya'an, Sichuan Province, located about 140 kilometers southwest of the city of Chengdu.

The WWF's "panda partnership" with the Chinese government includes as well the "panda partnerships" between Chinese zoos and research & breeding institutions, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, other prominent zoos around the world, as these partnerships help to raise global public awareness both of the giant panda's own plight as well as the plight of all of the other threatened and endangered species – animals as well as plants – that live in the habitats where the giant panda lives. And of course, this is only another aspect of the effort to raise awareness of the need to combat global warming, since the most likely future manmade threat to the planet's flora and fauna, now that mankind has become aware of the necessity of preserving the habitats of the planet's threatened and endangered species, will come in the form of pollution, especially pollution that leads to a general rise in the Earth's average temperature.

As an ordinary citizen, you can help to ensure the future of the giant panda – and the future of the many other plants and animals living in the giant panda's habitat – indirectly by taking steps to reduce your personal CO2 "footprint". In your community there probably already exists public campaigns that offer practical advice on how to reduce your personal CO2 "footprint". You can find them online or at your public library, and if you have a branch office of the WWF in your town, you can always drop by and ask which energy-saving programs are available in your community. You can of course also help to ensure the future of the giant panda in more direct ways, as the next two sections explain in detail.

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You can help to ensure the future of the giant panda – and have a lot of fun at the same time – by visiting one of the giant panda research & breeding centers listed in the section immediately above. If you are planning a trip to China, remember that while a visit to the Great Wall is of course unmissable, a visit to a giant panda research & breeding center is almost even more unmissable! It would be an experience of a lifetime, and would connect you to the giant panda in ways that a photo or a video could never hope to do. On the other hand, some young panda center visitors have indicated that they were so moved just from seeing a video about the giant panda that they deliberately set about planning a vacation in China with the express aim of visiting one of the giant panda research & breeding facilities.

In the meantime, the WWF and the giant panda research & breeding centers would be very grateful if you would at least consider a visit to one of these giant panda facilities if you are already thinking about a trip to China. The proceeds of the admission fee go to the upkeep of the centers' pandas as well as the costs associated with the giant panda's habitat preservation and improvement – these proceeds go to a very, very worthy cause!

But if you really want to put some icing on your cake, you can, for a fee (remember: the proceeds go solely to the habitat preservation and improvement of the panda!), have the opportunity to hug a panda – and have the event memorialized forever in a photo – on your visit to a giant panda research & breeding center. Pandas apparently like to hug and be hugged, and that includes a hug from a human.

You can also Adopt A Panda (the lowest "adoption" plan is a one-time fee of $600; the highest "adoption" plan is a one-time fee of $60,000) or Sponsor A Panda (beginning at a renewable annual fee as low as $25), but in order to claim the tax break for the "adoption" plan in the USA, you will have to make the contribution through, since the US government does not allow tax write-offs for gifts directly to Chinese giant panda centers (the proceeds from your "adoption" plan will go to the giant panda center sponsorship club of your choice: either Wolong or Bifengxia Panda Club). The best way to proceed if you are considering this option is to choose your favorite panda at the Wolong or Bifengxia panda center, then contact upon your return home to set up the "adoption" plan (note that similar tax deduction schemes may apply in other countries – check with the tax authorities in your country if you would like to consider this fantastic way of bonding with a panda).

If you would like to make a deeper commitment to the giant panda, then the next section is tailor-made for you...

The Panda Care Volunteer Program

You can volunteer to be a panda helper at either the Wolong or the Bifengxia giant panda research & breeding center. You can volunteer for 1 – 3 days, whichever fits your vacation plans best. You will be working alongside professional panda keepers and the respective center's research staff, and of course you will be working alongside volunteers just like yourself from all over the world. Depending on the length of your stay, you will be performing some or all of the following activities:

Observing and recording panda behavior (as an assistant to a researcher),
Pre-preparing bamboo for the pandas' meals,
Feeding other foodstuffs to pandas (carrots, "panda bread"*, etc. and usually through a cage door, for reasons of safety),
Collecting and weighing panda poop (as an assistant to a researcher), and
Cleaning panda enclosures.

Prior to assuming the "duties" of a panda center volunteer, you will of course be shown around the grounds of the respective research & breeding center, and you can look forward to being entertainingly introduced to the life cycle of the panda via documentary films. Finally, at the end of your stay, you will be issued a certificate that officially documents your participation in the panda care volunteer program (be sure to get it framed as soon as possible!).

Did I say that volunteering is the best way to get to know, and select, your favorite panda if you are considering a giant panda "adoption" plan???

* "Panda bread" is made from flour that consists of ground bamboo and various select grains, to which has been added an appropriate assortment of essential vitamins and minerals.

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