WTF Fun Fact 13128 – Panda Diplomacy

Pandas are native to China. Today, the country owns all living pandas. That’s because they’re extremely hard to breed (they simply won’t do it on their own) and any panda born outside the country becomes immediate property of China. However, the country does lease their pandas to zoos around the world in an act called panda diplomacy.

How did panda diplomacy come to be?

Between 1941 and 1984, China occasionally gifted pandas to other countries. But they stopped doing this and claimed ownership of the animals instead. Now, all pandas outside of China are technically leased (often for a decade) by the country.

Panda diplomacy is the act of gifting or leasing pandas as a gesture of goodwill.

The first panda “diplomat” came about after fashion designer Ruth Harkness took two pandas out of China and sold them to Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and Baptist minister David Crockett Graham took and sold two to the Bronx Zoo. After that Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of China and a diplomat in her own right, arranged for two more pandas to be sent to the San Diego Zoo.

However, the first act of panda diplomacy ended up buried in the news cycle since it happened during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Continuing diplomacy

Between 1957 and 1983, China gifted 24 pandas to 9 nations as diplomatic gestures of friendship. And when Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, he secured two more pandas from Mao Zedong for The National Zoo in Washington DC. In the first year they were on display over 1 million people came to visit the animals.

Countries around the world clamored for a chance to host the animals. But as they become more endangered, China stopped giving them away and began leasing them. In 1984, China’s leader (Deng Xiaoping) leased the first pandas to Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympics. The cost was $50,000 a month.

In 1991, the country moved to long term leases of a decade and the cost is up to $1 million a year and a promise that any cubs born will be returned to China along with their parents.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Panda diplomacy” – Wikipedia

WTF Fun Fact 13051 – Pairing Cheetahs and Dogs

Zoos are pairing their male cheetahs with emotional support dogs so that they have companions. It turns out that pairing cheetahs and dogs is a great idea for both animals.

Why pairing cheetahs with dogs works

Cheetahs are very nervous animals. Their “fight or flight” response is largely set to flight. That means they’re always looking out for predators. But in a zoo, they don’t have any. Nevertheless, it’s an instinct, so all the nervous energy builds up inside them. Needless to say, no one wants a stressed-out cheetah.

While the San Diego Zoo was one of the first places to try pairing cheetahs with companions, the idea originated elsewhere.

According to Atlas Obscura (cited below), it all began in Oregon. “In 1976, research scientist and conservation biologist Laurie Marker was living in Winston, a town of about 3,000 people. As the curator of a cheetah-breeding program at Wildlife Safari, she found herself hand-rearing a lonely cheetah cub named Khayam.”

Marker didn’t have a littermate to entertain Khayam, so she turned to man’s best friend. More specifically, she enlisted the help of a Lab-mix named Shesho.

Fast friends

Khayam and Shesho grew up together and acted as surrogate siblings for one another. The experiment was a success and the dog chilled out the cheetah. “Now, when a cub that’s abandoned or orphaned ends up in human care, many zoos pair the cat with a dog as a substitute sibling,” noted Atlas Obscura.

Marker provided the San Diego Zoo with a cheetah named Arusha a few years later and recommended they raise him with a dog. That was when the pairing hit the news. Who doesn’t love an interspecies friendship story?

Cheetah moms will often forsake single cubs, so finding a way to make captive cubs happy (or save them from death by neglect in the wild) was an important move for those trying to save cheetahs from extinction.  WTF fun facts

Source: “An Emotional Support Dog Is the Only Thing That Chills Out a Cheetah” — Atlas Obscura