If you have yet to hear, there’s something happening in the field of wildlife conservation that you really should know about…the animal rights movement is growing. This decades-long form of activism has created meaningful change – especially as of late. A great example of this is with the famed giant panda. Pressure from activist groups, along with other factors, has led to a significant policy change by the Chinese government: close panda encounters in China are no longer legal.
Officially, those visiting the Dujiangyan Panda Breeding Center or other panda centers in China can no longer pay an extra fee for a hands-on panda experience. For many, this is a surprising move by the government, so let’s look at the reasons for this change and Discover Corps’ stance on the issue:
Several recent incidents involving what officials referred to as “bold travelers” led to visitor injuries caused by the pandas during the experience. The facility has since stated that it was a safety issue because they could not guarantee the protection of clients who chose to experience this close encounter. This also leads us to believe the pandas may have felt threatened by travelers coming so close.
Income: A Key Motivator Has Now Been Eliminated
Historically, a key motivator for research centers to offer these hands-on experiences was the additional source of income (as the experience was very lucrative by Chinese standards). But the change in policy also brought a new financial source, as the government has stepped up to provide funding to centers, thus reducing the impetus to continue the experience given the risks mentioned above.
Perhaps the final straw for this issue was the increased push back and negative publicity from animal rights groups opposing these close panda encounters. This, understandably, put heat on the government to act. As a highly controversial subject, many in the public view these types of experiences as the manipulation of pandas for profit, rather than providing any real benefit to the animal. As such, this is the primary reason why Discover Corps never formally included it in our itinerary, but only as a non-compulsory activity at the travelers’ discretion on our China: Panda Conservation Adventure trip.
What This Means for Future Travelers to China
We fully agree with and support the new panda-related changes. If the health and well-being of animals are ever in question, we will consistently air on the side of caution in support of wildlife. As the issue of animal rights continues to evolve, Discover Corps pledges to continually evaluate best practices and seek out the best outcomes for all animals that we encounter.
If you are considering going to China and were looking forward to a panda encounter, the Dujiangyan Research Center still has much to offer, including: an incredible educational tour, the opportunity to volunteer in panda enclosures and learn what it takes to take care of pandas, the ability to prepare food for and feed pandas at a safe distance, and much more. Importantly, all funds from these experiences go to support panda conservation.
You can learn more about Discover Corps China: Panda Conservation Adventure here.