School – Where Pandas Learn To Be Wild

At this conservation center in central China, captive-born pandas go through a gradual, carefully monitored process to prepare them for lives in their natural habitat. Photographer Ami Vitale shows how they go from wriggly newborns to independent adventurers.

In September 2016, animal lovers breathed sighs of relief when the conservation status of the giant panda was upgraded from “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. OK, pandas are still deemed “vulnerable,” but the species’ population has risen 17 percent in the last decade, thanks in large part to breeding programs in China. Now conservationists are working on the next step in species restoration: increasing panda numbers in the wild.

Photographer Ami Vitale (TEDxWanChai talk: The power of a panda), who is based in Montana, was granted rare access to document the pupils at China’s “panda wilderness school” — a program that helps prepare captive-born pandas for release — at the Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong in the Sichuan province. She was drawn to the project after researching and learning about the richness and complexity of panda history and biology. “Pandas have been on the planet for eight million years, but the first panda was only captured alive in 1936. It’s mind-blowing when you think this animal remained hidden and elusive for millions and millions of years,” she explains. Here, Vitale shares her images and shows how researchers, caretakers and doctors ready pandas for independent lives.

View & Read more at: Gallery: The school where pandas learn how to be wild |

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