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The first Westerner known to have seen a living giant panda is the German zoologist Hugo Weigold , who purchased a cub in Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. In , Ruth Harkness became the first Westerner to bring back a live giant panda, a cub named Su Lin  which went to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.
In , five giant pandas were sent to London. Gifts of giant pandas to American and Japanese zoos formed an important part of the diplomacy of the People's Republic of China PRC in the s, as it marked some of the first cultural exchanges between the PRC and the West. This practice has been termed "panda diplomacy". By , however, pandas were no longer given as gifts. Since , because of a WWF lawsuit , the United States Fish and Wildlife Service only allows a US zoo to import a panda if the zoo can ensure the PRC will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for the giant panda and its habitat.
The issue became embroiled in cross-Strait relations — both over the underlying symbolism, and over technical issues such as whether the transfer would be considered "domestic" or "international", or whether any true conservation purpose would be served by the exchange.
However, when Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency in , the offer was accepted, and the pandas arrived in December of that year. Microbes in panda waste are being investigated for their use in creating biofuels from bamboo and other plant materials. The giant panda is a vulnerable species , threatened by continued habitat loss and habitat fragmentation ,  and by a very low birthrate, both in the wild and in captivity.
The giant panda has been a target of poaching by locals since ancient times and by foreigners since it was introduced to the West. Starting in the s, foreigners were unable to poach giant pandas in China because of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War , but pandas remained a source of soft furs for the locals.
The population boom in China after created stress on the pandas' habitat, and the subsequent famines led to the increased hunting of wildlife, including pandas. During the Cultural Revolution , all studies and conservation activities on the pandas were stopped. After the Chinese economic reform , demand for panda skins from Hong Kong and Japan led to illegal poaching for the black market , acts generally ignored by the local officials at the time.
Though the Wolong National Nature Reserve was set up by the PRC government in to save the declining panda population, few advances in the conservation of pandas were made, owing to inexperience and insufficient knowledge of ecology. Many believed the best way to save the pandas was to cage them. As a result, pandas were caged at any sign of decline, and suffered from terrible conditions. Because of pollution and destruction of their natural habitat, along with segregation caused by caging, reproduction of wild pandas was severely limited.
In the s, however, several laws including gun control and the removal of resident humans from the reserves helped their chances of survival. With these renewed efforts and improved conservation methods, wild pandas have started to increase in numbers in some areas, though they still are classified as a rare species.
In , scientists reported that the number of pandas living in the wild may have been underestimated at about 1, Previous population surveys had used conventional methods to estimate the size of the wild panda population, but using a new method that analyzes DNA from panda droppings , scientists believe the wild population may be as large as 3, Furthermore, in response to this reclassification, the State Forestry Administration of China announced that they would not accordingly lower the conservation level for panda, and would instead reinforce the conservation efforts.
The giant panda is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals, and is one of the few in the world whose natural inhabitant status was able to gain a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries , located in the southwest province of Sichuan and covering seven natural reserves, were inscribed onto the World Heritage List in Not all conservationists agree that the money spent on conserving pandas is well spent.
Chris Packham has argued that the breeding of pandas in captivity is "pointless" because "there is not enough habitat left to sustain them". In , Earthwatch Institute , a global nonprofit that teams volunteers with scientists to conduct important environmental research, launched a program called "On the Trail of Giant Panda". This program, based in the Wolong National Nature Reserve, allows volunteers to work up close with pandas cared for in captivity, and help them adapt to life in the wild, so that they may breed, and live longer and healthier lives.
Pandas have been kept in zoos as early as the Western Han Dynasty in China, where the writer Sima Xiangru noted that the panda was the most treasured animal in the emperor's garden of exotic animals in the capital Chang'an present Xi'an.
Not until the s were pandas again recorded to have been exhibited in China's zoos. Chi Chi at the London Zoo became very popular. This influenced the World Wildlife Fund to use a panda as its symbol. A New York Times article  outlined the economics of keeping pandas, which costs five times more than that of the next most expensive animal, an elephant.
San Diego's contract with China was to expire in , but got a five-year extension at about half of the previous yearly cost. Cryptozoologists use Giant Pandas as an example of an animal recently discovered by science. Skeptical cryptozoologist Joe Nickell , notes that since Giant Pandas were known to local people, they qualify as cryptids. Also, fossil evidence shows that pandas were once widespread, including the two million year old skull of Ailuropoda microta . From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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