What do you know about Giant Pandas?

Nguyen Pham Dan Anh is a Secondary 4 student who underwent an internship at Science Centre Singapore (SCS) in June 2015. She has written this blog post together with fellow intern, Jeremy Keat U during her internship at SCS.

Last Wednesday, Jeremy and I gained an opportunity to watch IMAX show “Pandas: The Journey Home” inside the Omni-Theatre at the Science Center Singapore. Pandas: The Journey Home is a National Geographic documentary directed by Nicholas Brown. The movie follows the pandas journey to return to their natural habitat with unprecedented access to Wolong Panda Center in China.

WolongThe 40-minutes film aimed at general audience with some interest in pandas’ conservation.The film revolved around the pandas in China, as the names suggests, and their quest to return to the wild, where they truly belong. This would be done first by training the pandas before they entered the wild. But who would train the pandas? A panda conservation center, the Wolong Panda Center is dedicated to help out the pandas. However, the show is less about the center rather than the actions and measures done to bring pandas back to their natural habitat with its spotlight on Tao Tao, a captive-bred giant Panda.

14260140699_d591cb2fdb_oIn 2008, there was a deadly earthquake in the Sichuan Province of China. It affected the Wolong National Nature Reserve killing several giant pandas and destroying their habitat. They, then, were transported to nearby panda bases.

The story of the movie that we watched was special and touching. One part of the movie touched on the experiences that the caretakers, in particular Mary and papa panda Zhang, have to go through.

Before releasing the giant pandas back to the wild, the caretakers needed to breed the giant pandas. This process was hard as the female panda was reluctant to mate. When the female panda was about to give birth, she was monitored by the caretakers 24/7 for over two weeks. They had success and welcomed a pair of twin panda babies into the world.

14423656196_7b42276809_oGiant pandas typically favour the stronger of the two and leave the other to its own device. Hence, usually only one will grow into adulthood. That was when the caretakers stepped in. They took care of the other baby panda. They even risked their safety, as pandas are strong enough to kill a human being, to switch the baby pandas because both the newborn needed motherly care. The pandas were put under intensive care for months.

Another aspect of the movie I enjoyed a lot was the fun facts included in it. An example of this was when the panda reserve thought that the baby pandas were dying, but learnt later that the pandas were unable to pass motion as they did not have strong muscles, therefore they needed to rub the baby pandas bellies at times to ensure that they were able to.

A specific Panda, whose name is Tao Tao was highlighted in the movie. He is a captive-bred giant panda. He was chosen to be the subject of the release programme. Tao Tao was trained to live in the wild by the trainer along with his mother. He was trained how to find food, how to flee when there is danger, and how to survive. He was put in a wild closed area to live with his mother under tight surveillance. To help the pandas, the caretakers went so far as dressing up as pandas and smearing themselves with panda’s poop so as to hide the human smell when bringing food, training and taking care of Tao Tao. When he was 2 years old, Tao Tao was released into the wild, away from his mother with a big celebration all over China. He is the second captive-bred panda to be released into the wild. The first one, Xiang Xiang, was found dead on the forest 2 months after when he was released.


The film did not tell you more about the fate of Tao Tao after his release which I think a lot of viewers would like to know.

However, all these made for an interesting plot and it is one of the cutest movies I have seen in a while.

The entire experience was immersive. I felt like I was not just sitting inside a theatre but I was in the beautiful forest of China through the wonderful cinematography. The movie has pandas, which in my opinion, are one of the cutest and most adorable animals on Earth. I found myself falling more in love with our black and white friends. If you are considering seeing this, then prepare to have your heart touched by Tao Tao’s adventure and the wonderful men and women working hard to help preserve the soon-to-be extinct panda.

The film, entertaining as it may be, is fully descriptive and beautifully filmed. It lacks the analytic and critical voice that one usually find in a documentary and leaves most of the analytical work to the audience. To me, this is what the movie failed to do. However, one can justify by saying that the movie is short, 40 minutes, and many in the audience are children. The film also does not cover other aspects of captive-bred pandas. One controversial thing is the morality of freeing a captive-bred panda. The pandas are so used to being taken care for by humans that they lose their natural survival instinct in the wild. No matter how much humans train the pandas through dressing up, staging leopards, close monitoring, these pandas will forever be just a caricature of the wild pandas. When they are released, the chances of survival are not high. And there are reports that these captive-bred programmes are not effective as their food source had also been slowly dwindling together with the disappearance of their natural habitat.

The movie will appeal to children and adults alike with its amazing cinematography and wonderful plot. So if you have a chance, come and see Pandas: The journey home.

Giant Pandas Fun facts

Let’s think about it!

  • Why is it important to increase the number of Panda?
  • Is it ok to release heavily-relied pandas into the wild?

Leave a Reply