A Bear of a Job
Can the National Zoo's new pandas help their endangered Chinese cousins to survive?
They earn a million bucks a year. They live in a posh new home. They make headlines across America. Yet they don't seem to care about being rich and famous."They" are giant pandas named Mei Xiang (may SHONG) and Tian Tian (tea YEN tea YEN).
Mei Xiang, a female, is three. Her name means "beautiful fragrance." Tian Tian is a four-year-old male. His name means "more and more."Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were born in China, the only country where wild pandas live. China has lent the pair to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., for ten years.
In exchange, the zoo will contribute a million dollars each year to help protect wild places, plants, and animals in China.Two million people have lined up to watch the furry celebrities since they went public last January. Zoogoers see incredibly cute animals who play and wrestle. But is that all? Scientists and conservationists hope that panda fans will also see the face of an animal that needs our help.
What makes pandas so popular? For starters, they're rare. Only five other pandas live in the entire United States—two in Atlanta and three in San Diego.Some scientists see deeper reasons for pandas' popularity. Strange as it sounds, the black-and-white critters may remind us a little of ourselves. Like humans, pandas can sit up straight. They have clear personalities, and they seem to share our boundless curiosity.Pandas also have round heads, fat cheeks, and big eyes—as do human babies. And, like kids learning to walk, pandas have their awkward moments. Add lots of fur, and the animals seem, well, cuddly.
There's another reason why pandas fascinate us—their "thumbs." Each front paw has five "fingers" plus a lump of bone that sticks out like a thumb. Panda "thumbs" don't move, but they're very handy. The animals hold things by bending their "fingers" toward their "thumbs.
"Mei Xiang is especially "paw-some." She gets lots of chances to show her skills. To keep the pandas from getting bored, zookeepers hide treats for them to find. One day, each panda got apples and carrots—floating in tubs of water. Tian Tian knocked his tub over and ate the treats off the ground. Mei Xiang calmly sat next to her tub. Again and again, she put her paw into the water, picked up a single treat, and ate it.
Scientists believe that panda "thumbs" are an adaptation, or adjustment, to living in China's bamboo forests. Pandas use their paws to grasp, break, hold, and eat pieces of the wild grass.BAMBOO CAGEFor Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, bamboo is just one tasty item on a menu that zookeepers provide. They also get special biscuits and treats. But for pandas who live in the wild, bamboo is life. Each day, an average adult crunches 25 to 100 pounds of bamboo. Wild pandas eat almost nothing else.Yet bamboo is a weird food for pandas. They can barely digest the hard, tree-like plant.
To get enough nutrients, the animals must spend most of their time eating.Because of this limited diet, pandas must live where they are surrounded by bamboo. The animals cannot survive anywhere else. You might say that pandas live in a "bamboo cage."That bamboo cage is shrinking. Pandas once lived in much of eastern China. But the country's human population grew rapidly. People needed space for farms and towns, so they cut down huge portions of the bamboo forests. In the past 25 years, pandas have lost half their habitat.
PROTECTING PANDAS- As their world disappears, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian's wild relatives have become endangered. Only 1,000 or so of these beloved bears remain in the wild. About 100 pandas live in zoos around the world, but they don't breed well in captivity. Some scientists wonder how long the animal group can survive.China knows that its pandas are a global treasure. Working with conservationists, Chinese officials have developed plans for protecting pandas.The heart of the plan is preserving panda habitat. To create larger reserves, or safe places, for pandas, the Chinese government sometimes pays farmers and loggers to move somewhere else.
China has also enacted strict laws against poaching, or illegally killing, pandas.Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are part of the plan too. These roly-poly clowns have two big jobs while they're in Washington, D.C. First, wildlife experts hope the dynamic duo will promote interest in saving pandas. And then everyone hopes they'll start a family.
Comment : All people must be together to protect endangered animal such a panda bear to make sure the new generation can know how it real face and their true life.