April 1, 2012
Pandas Put To Work In Their Own Park
John Neumann for RedOrbit.com
This story was originally published on April 1st, 2012 as part of an April Fool's Day prank and promotion. It should in no way be considered as "real" news.
If you visit the Giant pandas in the Wolong Panda Reserve, the site of a successful breeding program since 1993, don´t be alarmed if your next lunch meal is served by one of the pandas themselves.
The success of the breeding program, with nearly 1,000 born and raised within the confines of the park had government officials scrambling for ideas of what to do with the extra animals crowding the preserve.
All the major zoos around the globe that were capable of taking in a breeding pair have already done so. Attempts to reintroduce them into the wild were stymied by the animals long-term reliance on the food and shelter provided them by the Chinese government, and relocated pandas quickly found their way back into the park. Some were discovered tunneling under razor wire fences built to keep them out.
Wolong Park is considered a national treasure and sees throngs of visitors from all over the globe crowding the park, especially during the busy Chinese vacation season. Unfortunately, the verdant setting is far from any major towns capable of housing the workers for the park, so one plan from park management has been implemented to great success.
Park manager Li Yuanhong said in a statement, “The Giant Panda, although often seen as slothful and unmotivated is actually a trainable and intelligent animal. With a shortage of workers willing to travel such great distances to work low-level jobs, we found that the panda was willing to use properly a broom and mop among the public to no ill effect.”
“It was not much of a stretch after this that we discovered they enjoy the intellectual challenge and so we widened their responsibilities to include cleaning tables and serving plates of food. The children especially are entranced, once they overcome their fear of a so-called “wild animal” in their midst.”
The move of some animals to the human side of the fences was not publicly released pending positive results of the experiment.
Food service manager with Wolong, Liu Shaoqi explained to RedOrbit, “Of course we did not announce to the guests that we had pandas working within the park. We are already crowded enough and we did not need even more bus loads of students and pensioners visiting than we already had. No one wants to come visit such a crowded and popular place. It is not good for business.
During the first weeks, no one noticed, or said that they had. Comment cards were generally positive except for a few instances where guests noted that their servers had taken large bites from their plates before being served. It was not a huge problem. Those who could not be fully trained were sent to park maintenance department to clean comfort stations.”
“We are overall very pleased with the results. Everyone wins. The bears get a chance to be stimulated, the public is happy to see them close up and Wolong has saved much money by replacing these jobs with volunteer pandas.”
There are no plans to expand the program beyond the food and comfort stations. A one-week trial of having the pandas used as ticket takers was a disaster according to Mr. Li.
“The physiology of the giant panda was most unsuited for the job. The panda´s paw has a “thumb” and five fingers; the “thumb” is actually a modified sesamoid bone, which helps the giant panda to hold bamboo while eating. However it is most unsuitable for tearing paper tickets in half.”
“Within 3 days of this task, all three of the pandas at the front gate had developed an ursine form of carpel tunnel syndrome and could only perform light duties for six weeks afterwards. There are no health clinics willing to perform surgery on pandas with this syndrome, although we did successfully have lasik surgery done to one of the bears. She no longer places the wrong food plates in front of the customer.”
Li concluded by saying that while recuperating from the ticket tearing, the three bears lost their motivation for future work and we were forced to return them to the general panda population.
“It is not a problem, there are plenty of other bears willing and able to do the work.”