Panda Bites the Hand that Feeds It

Panda Bites the Hand That Feeds It
This is one of a handful of articles I wrote about  Taishan and Meisheng are in Bifengxia
Panda bites the thumb that feeds it

There are detractors of the volunteering panda program. Those detractors say the possibility of disease transference is increased when more people come in contact with the pandas. Others say it can be dangerous for the volunteers, who are usually inexperienced at working with wild animals.

The program has been running now since 2004, approximately 9 years. In those 9 years thousands of volunteers have assisted the panda keepers at various panda preserves around China. My tour volunteering groups have done volunteer duties at Wolong, Bifengxia and Lougantai panda facilities.

In all this time there has only been one serious injury to a volunteer reported. There has not been any case of known transmission of disease from a volunteer to a panda. These are really excellent and strong statistics validating the safety for both the volunteers and the pandas.

I know that now you’re wondering what that one injury to a volunteer was. Here’s the story as I heard it soon after the incident occurred.

A woman only ever identified as an American, aged 50, named Lisa was performing short time volunteer duties when she was injured. Those of you who have gone with me know you are given some simple safety instructions. Included is a warning not to go near the bars of the cages nor to feed the panda unless directed to do so by the panda keeper.

When hand feeding the pandas in their cage we generally give them panda bread, apple or sometimes carrots. I have never known a keeper to allow hand feeding of small pieces of bamboo to the pandas.

The story as I heard it is that while the panda keeper had her back turned, Lisa the volunteer took some short pieces of bamboo and attempted to feed one piece to the panda.

The panda reached out to grasp the bamboo and also (probably by accident) grabbed hold of Lisa’s hand or the glove she was wearing. The panda then bit down on the bamboo stalk, simultaneously biting the volunteer’s thumb.

The surprised woman tried to pull her hand away, got excited and was screaming all of which caused the panda to bite down harder, chopping off the end of her thumb.

According to a local Wolong doctor the woman lost 20% of the end of her thumb.

I am very pleased to say none of my volunteers has ever done anything like that. Nor have any of them been bitten or clawed by a panda.

So the question immediately asked by American internet trouble makers was should the program be stopped because of this one injury?

My reply to this is of course not. There is no activity that humans engage in that doesn’t result in injuries. I was surprised the first time I heard how many people fall in their bath or shower every year. According to the National Safety Council, one person dies every day from using a bathtub or shower in the United States. Additionally 370 people are injured in bathtub or shower accidents every day.

One tiny portion of a thumb doesn’t seem such a large injury rate. At the time the accident happened in October of 2006 1,200 volunteers had performed volunteering activities at the Wolong Panda Preserve.

I’m a big fan of the volunteer program. I think the money generated by the volunteer fees, plus the many donations that volunteers make while at the panda preserves are a big help to the budgets of the preserves. And on a more personal note, I was once a celebrity because of volunteering!
Share by: