Are all those fluffy baby pandas doomed to die?

“Baby Pandas Face a Hard Road Ahead” by Anna Gosline

You can’t trip over a television these days without being confronted with the gratuitously cute and fluffy face of a baby panda. After years of fruitless attempts at captive breeding, there is a sudden glut of cubs worldwide. The National Zoo in Washington, DC, started a nationwide sensation with its adorable puffball, Tai Shan, born July 9, 2005. The scramble for tickets to the zoo left one Craigslist poster offering oral sex in return for a view of the cub. San Diego’s baby Su Lin was born that August, and her daily movements were watched by thousands on the Internet. Now, Zoo Atlanta has its own black-and-white bundle of joy, Mei Lan, who made her first public appearance just last week.

North Americans are nothing compared to the Chinese, however. They’ve taken up the cause to save their native endangered species celebre. The government announced a record 34 pandas born in captivity in 2006, of which 30 survived. A whopping 217 pandas have been born in captivity since the program started in the 80s. One of the busiest centers of panda breeding is the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China. Wolong boasted 17 cubs in 2005, not to mention the revoltingly adorable “panda kindergarten” video footage. Multiple baby pandas barreling down a plastic slide? Genius. A couple more years at this pace and pandas will be off the endangered species list for good.

But are giant pandas really bounding their way back from the brink of extinction, or are we just losing our minds in the midst of so much prime-time cuteness? The facts hold both promise and cause for concern.

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For more information about the magazine or to contact the author of “Baby Pandas Face a Hard Road Ahead” email anne.casselman at inklingmagazine dot com

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