Answer to Map #59

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Answer: This week’s map was a dot map showing the location of all the zoos, safari parks, and conservation centers where one can see giant pandas on display.

Pandas, of course, are native exclusively to China. The center of their natural habitat is in Sichuan province, especially in the vicinity of the city of Chengdu. Consequently, there are several important panda breeding centers in Chengdu and its surrounding area. That fact accounts for the cluster of dots you see in Sichuan, which was key to solving this map. There are also dots in several other major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macao. The fact that there were so many more dots in China than in any other country was a clue that China was the source of the rest of the dots on this map.

Since pandas are adorable, they attract many visitors. What zoo wouldn’t want to be able to put pandas on display? But pandas are also gravely endangered. They are notoriously slow and fickle breeders, so zoos involved in panda breeding programs must spend a huge amount of time, money, and energy on their pandas. China is only willing to send pandas to a few zoos around the world that are capable of meeting these expenses.

The first panda to come to North America came to San Francisco in 1936. That panda, a three-month-old cub named Su Lin, was brought by an American socialite who liked to carry her around and be photographed. In the succeeding decade, panda hunters would go into the wilds of southern China to capture wild pandas they could bring to American zoos. Inevitably, people sometimes called the widespread interest in pandas “pandamania.” But in 1946, China officially banned panda exports. By the early 1950s, all the pandas outside of China had died.

In 1957, the Chinese government sent a panda to a zoo in Moscow. In 1972, they followed that up by sending two pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. In both these cases, pandas were political gifts. The goal was to use pandas to show particular governments that China was serious about establishing positive relations and to make people take an interest in Chinese culture.

Today, pandas are still involved in politics. The Chinese government sends pandas to important countries with which it desires stronger relations. For example, when the Chinese government proposed sending two pandas to Taiwan in 2005 as part of efforts to develop closer economic ties to that island, the nationalist government of Taiwan refused to accept the pandas. Only after a new government took office in 2008 was the proposal finally accepted. You can now visit Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan at the Taipei Zoo.

When pandas are sent overseas, the Chinese government attaches strict conditions to the deals. Pandas are “loaned,” not gifted. Any cubs born to the pandas belong to China and are supposed to be returned to that country after they reach a certain age. Zoos generally pay the Chinese government a fee of about $1 million per year to house the loaned pandas.

The most recent country to acquire new pandas was Indonesia, where pandas went on display at the Taman Safari Zoo in Bogor on the island of Java in late September 2017. One of the next places to get pandas will be Calgary, Alberta. When Canada got its first pandas, the zoos in Toronto and Calgary agreed to share the pandas. Two adult pandas loaned from China plus their two cubs who were born in Toronto will travel to the Calgary Zoo in 2018.

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