Fujifilm Helps Bring Giant Pandas to U.S.; $7.8M Gift to Launch Conservation Effort.• TEXT BY DAN HAVLIK •
• IMAGES BY © WINDLAND RICE AND TOM CURLEY AS INDICATED •
© Tom Curley Entrance to China Research and
Conservation Center for the
Giant Panda in Wolong, China
Nature photographer Windland Rice has seen a lot of animals in
her day-from the school of playful dolphins she photographed off
the side of a boat in the Bahamas to the bashful lion she captured
covering its face behind a plump paw in Africa. But despite Rice's
extensive experience working in the animal world, her reaction to
seeing a Chinese giant panda up close for the first time was not
unlike most people's.
"They are so adorable," Rice says. "Even the adults are heart-wrenching to look at. They have these big black furry spots around their eyes that make them look even bigger than they are. And they have these cute pompom ears and big round heads. They look like giant teddy bears or huge snowmen. They're just unbelievably cute."
© Tom Curley Dennis O'Connor, Undersecretary for Science, Smithsonian Institution, and Dr. Lucy Spelman, Director of National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C., accepting gifts at panda handover ceremony in China.
The Wyoming-based shooter's first experience photographing the pandas was unusual in that it didn't take place at one of the handful of animal care facilities outside of China, such as the San Diego Zoo, lucky enough to have a giant panda. Instead, Rice was hired by Fujifilm and given the unique opportunity last December to photograph the giant pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China as part of an historic effort to bring two new bears to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. As Fujifilm's official panda photographer, Rice shot thousands of frames of the black-and-white pair as they were transported from Wolong, flown to the United States, and brought to the zoo amidst much international fanfare.TIAN TIAN AND MEI XIANG
© 2000 WINDLAND RICE
By contributing $7.8 million to fund key elements of the conservation and education effort, Fujifilm has become the lead corporate sponsor for the panda project. Along with helping to make it possible for the zoo to bring the pandas, Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), a male, and Mei Xiang (may-SHAWNG), a female, from China to the United States, Fujifilm is supporting construction of a new state-of-the-art habitat for the bears. The facility, scheduled to replace the existing one in three years, will be called the Fujifilm Giant Panda Conservation Habitat. Fujifilm's contribution is also funding a new conservation education program designed to help children and adults learn more about the giant pandas and conservation of wildlife in general. The donation, the largest single sponsorship ever provided to the National Zoo, was made in celebration of Fujifilm's 35th Anniversary of doing business in America.
According to Judy Matson, Fujifilm's Director of Corporate Contributions and Community Relations, the funding helps kick off the company's new national philanthropic effort focusing on the environment.
"It's a perfect match for us to join the Smithsonian, the National Zoo, and the Friends of the National Zoo as partners in conservation education for the panda project," Matson says. "And this is a great way for us to launch our new philanthropic effort to raise awareness about preserving the natural environment."
Tian Tian and Mei Xiang were introduced to the public on January 10 after a month of mandatory quarantine at the zoo. The two pandas bring to mind Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the famous duo donated to the zoo by the Chinese government in the early 1970s following President Richard Nixon's landmark trip to China.
Like the intense media attention that swirled around Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing as they tried unsuccessfully to bear healthy offspring at the zoo, the two new arrivals are expected to generate much excitement in the years to come. And Rice will be there to track every minute of it on film. She'll also snap away as Tian Tian and Mei Xiang frolic in their new habitat at the National Zoo.
She has clearly been bowled over by the whole experience.
"It's really thrilling," she says. "It shows that everybody, the different countries and all these great corporate sponsors, can work together on behalf of conservation."
Joining Rice on the trek to China and back was Tom Curley, Fujifilm's Director of Trade Association Development, who documented the trip with the FinePix S1 Pro, Fujifilm's latest professional digital camera. Curley assisted Rice and served as Fujifilm's representative during the international panda effort.
"I felt like I was part of an historic moment," Curley remembers of the trip. "The fact that the National Zoo hosted the two earlier pandas, and that these two were their successors, gave me the sense of being part of a new era."
He and Rice were members of a 10-person American team in China that also included staff of the National Zoo, namely Zoo Director Dr. Lucy Spelman, and a film crew from "Animal Planet," part of the Discovery cable channel and also a sponsor of the panda project. Another sponsor, Federal Express, transported Tian Tian and Mei Xiang to the U.S. in the PandaONE MD-11, a custom-painted jet decorated with images of the giant pandas and, of course, the FedEx logo.