Pandas are well-known idiots. They fall on their faces in snow, and they fall on their faces in front of reporters. And now, they’re getting tricked by care-keepers and photographers dressed in horrendous, child-like panda costumes.
I mean, look at this:
That said, the not-so-clever disguise allowed photographer Ami Vitale to snap fantastic close-up images of the endangered bears for National Geographic. The Creators Project reports Vitale took the photos over three years while visiting Panda reserves around China, including the Wolong Nature Reserve in the Sichuan Province of China.
The director of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, Zhang Hemin, aka “Papa Panda,” designed the amateurish suits as a way for care-keepers to interact with the bears without training them to become overly familiar or reliant on humans. To complete the effect, workers at Wolong—and, presumably, Vitale—covered their suits with panda urine and excrement to disguise any human scent.
“It was often very difficult getting the access needed to make images that were special, but it made it all the more rewarding when I was able to capture those unique moments,” Vitale told The Creators Project.
Covering yourself in bear piss and shit was a small price to pay, however, for Vitale to gain access to the adorable pandas.
“[The pandas] will melt your heart,” she said. “They smell like wet puppies and they make the most incredible sounds. Sometimes they squeak, other times its a growl, or a bark or maybe a huff.”
The National Geographic story also explains some of the graphic challenges the researchers faced in getting the pandas to mate in captivity:
In this setting, little about panda production is natural. Dropping a male in with a female can even lead to aggression instead of mating. To set the mood, breeders in China have tried “panda porn”—videos of pandas mating—mostly for the encouraging sounds; apples on sticks to tempt males into mounting position; Chinese herbs; and even Viagra and sex toys. Director Zhang Hemin, also known as Papa Panda, recalls an awkward shopping trip to an “adult toy store” in Chengdu. “We told the clerk we needed a female-genital stimulator that had to warm up,” he told me. “Then I had to ask for a receipt to submit to the government for reimbursement.”
Perhaps Hemin should’ve just consulted Lu Lu, the record-setting panda stud better known as the “Enduring Brother”?
Photos and a video from Vitale’s projects are embedded below. For more, check out the August issue of National Geographic Magazine.