This is one of a handful of articles I wrote about
and Meisheng are in Bifengxia
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
copyright 2016-2017, Keith Jones
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