The Giant Panda, native to China, is surely one of the world’s most beloved animals.
It’s ironic, then, that they’ve been an endangered species since the 1980s. WWF estimates that only 1,800 are left in the wild.
The ongoing efforts to rewild these spectacular creatures is the subject of a new story in the August issue of National Geographic magazine.
In the amazing photo series by Ami Vitale, we meet pandas from various Chinese conservation centers, born and bred in captivity with a view to one day being released into the wild.
Here, we look at five moving images from the series, highlighting the lovable wonder of these amazing bears.
1 Papa Panda
Zhang Hemin – ‘Papa Panda’ to his staff – poses with cubs born in 2015 at Bifengxia Panda Base. ‘Some local people say giant pandas have magic powers,’ says Zhang, who directs many of China’s panda conservation efforts. ‘To me, they simply represent beauty and peace.’
2 A mother’s love
Blind, nearly hairless, squeaky, and 1/900 the size of its mother, a newborn panda is as needy as it gets. But it won’t be for long: The panda is among the fastest growing mammals, increasing from around four ounces to four pounds in its first month.
3 Three’s a crowd
Three-month-old cubs nap in the panda nursery at Bifengxia. A panda mother that bears twins usually fails to give them equal attention. Keepers reduce the load by regularly swapping cubs in and out – making sure each gets both human and panda-mom care.
4 Step siblings
Triple the cuteness – and the work. One mom cares for all these cubs, only one of which she bore. Transferring a weak or rejected infant from its birth mother to a surrogate is helping boost cub survival at panda breeding centers.
5 Ye Ye, a 16-year-old giant panda, lounges in a wild enclosure at a conservation center in Wolong Nature Reserve. Her name, whose characters represent Japan and China, celebrates the friendship between the two nations. Ye Ye’s cub Hua Yan (Pretty Girl) is being trained for release into the wild.
For more information about National Geographic magazine, visit the official website by clicking here.