Pandas not so cuddly when out in the wild

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, December 30, 2016
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Many visitors told Wei Hua, a panda keeper in southwest China's Sichuan Province, that they were envious when they saw him playing with the cute cubs, but they hadn't seen the moment the 41-year-old had both wrists broken by one of the animals.

Wei quit his job at the zoo of Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, three years ago to become a keeper at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.

The holder of a master's degree in wildlife protection was employed to train pandas in the Wolong National Nature Reserve so that they could survive when released into the wild.

"I like Wolong, where I have more chances to take part in wild panda research and protection," he said.

The Tiantai Mountain training center where he works is some 2,500 to 3,100 meters above sea level. The work is not as easy as some panda lovers had imagined.

Wei is usually wet through with sweat after cleaning the pandas' enclosures. On rainy days the panda excrement sticks to his clothes. When the weather is bad, he and his colleagues stay in the forest all day long, eating cold food and drinking water from the stream. The reserve is also prone to disasters such as landslides.

"But my efforts pay off when I see the cute animals grow up to be healthy," he said.

One of his current favorites is Xi Mei, a female panda sent for training a fortnight ago. "She is graceful and smart," Wei said. "She loves playing with water, and she likes to be pretty."

Observing Xi Mei over one two-day period, Wei noted that Xi Mei's daughter Ba Xi was nowhere to be seen.

He wondered if she could have been involved in an accident and, on December 17, decided to go into the training area to try to find the animal.

After a long search, her monitoring signal was detected and a relieved Wei approached the animal. "So you are here," he said as he approached. "I've been worried about you for two days. Don't hide from me again."

But as he and his fellow keepers were about to leave, Xi Mei suddenly appeared and, in an apparent bid to protect her daughter, attacked the keepers.

Wei came off the worst. When he was dragged from danger, his hat and glasses were gone. He had a deep cut on his head, a broken finger bone was visible, and his trousers were soaked in blood.

In hospital, doctors found a tendon on his foot was ruptured and both wrists were broken. The panda has also bitten a chunk out of his left hand.

Despite it all, colleague Qiu Yu said, his first question was "are the pandas all right?"

Wei is one of four panda keepers at the training center.

"Where there are pandas, there are panda keepers," Qiu said. "They monitor the pandas' condition, collect first-hand data and pave the way for pandas to go back to the wild."

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