World / Europe

Panda Awareness Week hits London

( Updated: 2012-07-04 15:38

PAW has a startling beginning with Chengdu pandas putting on a London show.

International Panda Awareness Week (PAW) got off to a colorful start on July 4, with 108 costumed "pandas" on hand to perform a tai chi inspired dance in the middle of Trafalgar Square.

PAW was initiated by the Chengdu Panda Base, a world-renowned giant panda breeding and research center in Chengdu, the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province. And it has the support of a panda expert and TV wildlife presenter, Nigel Marven. The purpose of the week is to increase awareness of and support for the pandas, one of the world’s most endangered species.

This week's activities will run through July 6, with the pandas hosting a 'panda party' at Covent Garden and touring the city -- what better way? -- by subway. The 108 costumed "animals" represent 108 pandas living back at the Chengdu base, which plays a leading role in the continued growth of the species, as well as the rescue and rehabilitation of giant pandas.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the base, which got its start in 1987 when six giant pandas were rescued from the wilderness. And, now, thanks to a well-thought-out conservation plan, Chengdu has the world's largest panda population bred in captivity, and it is expected reach 150 over the next 10 years.

During the week, Marven and other panda experts from Chengdu will accompany the costumed pandas on a visit to London primary schools to teach the children about the importance of saving the giant panda and explain Chengdu's ongoing panda conservation efforts.

Primary schools across the UK will also be able to partake in a 'Panda Pal' program, where their schools can sign up to receive regular updates on the growth of a chosen group of pandas to arouse more interest in the panda base among primary schools.

In talking about his work at the Chengdu base and his role as PAW's ambassador, Marven said, "I visited the Chengdu Panda Base in August 2010 and it was a truly magical experience that resulted in my having the privilege of becoming the first western Chengdu Panda Ambassador. Pandas have been a lifelong passion of mine, which is why I jumped at the chance to be involved with the launch of Panda Awareness Week in London.

"And I am confident that all the great work taking place during PAW will highlight the fantastic efforts of Chengdu city, especially the Panda Base, and will, in turn, help raise awareness for one of the world's most threatened species, the giant panda."

An additional comment came from Zhang Zhihe, the head of the Chengdu Panda Base, who said, "The Chengdu Panda base is thrilled to be starting Panda Awareness Week in London, especially as the world's attention shifts to the city, ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

"Our ultimate goal is to help the pandas return to their natural habitat and to increase the number of giant pandas living in the wild. We hope that Panda Awareness Week can help us gain more support for panda conservation and find new advocates for this very special cause."

PAW will officially begin with a VIP reception at a special Bamboo House in the heart of Covent Garden, on July 4, with top officials from Chengdu and London in attendance.

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