Why No More Panda Viewing

I was just catching up with my mammalwatching blogging and started to answer a question on why the Panda viewing had been close down on a pretty long and old thread, but thought this might be of interest to the larger community now so I decided to start a new thread….

So, why have the Panda trips stopped?

In a word, Weibo!  The Chinese version of Twitter, with just a hell of a lot more followers….obviously.

 Basically there were pictures of several foreignors’ expeditions to the region showing close up and intrusive viewing of the Pandas in the Qinlings.  BAsically people like myself published the expedition trip reports on their blogs and then the Weibo community found the reports and started going crazy with anti-foreignor rhetoric – “the foreignors are ecoterrorizing our pandas….”  They pointed out that rich foreignors were ecoterrorizing their national treasure and that viewing pandas was in fact illegal and the entire venture should have never been allowed in the first place.

It was pretty shocking to have one of my contacts in China send me a Weibo link a couple years back stating, “Coke, you are famous!” and then seeing my blog cut and pasted all over the Chinese internet ….

Here are the  links:   




.And seeing several others from this website and others being used as evidence. There was one trip by a Bear Ecotour Operation out of Canada that evidently spent a lot of time with a new born panda in a cave that really pissed people off there.   The central government got wind of all of this and shut down the entire operation.  For good.  I can honestly say I had no idea that my amazing expedition to the region would be used to support closing it down….Truly sad, and actually a bit humiliating.  Overly ambitious trackers were the official reason, but I think some heads rolled for sure.  As a result many of the nature reserves were shut tight to foreingers – some have since opened up and some are still shut.  Very sad in deed.


  • vdinets

    Thanks a lot! I almost signed up for their tour when I was in Shaangxi in 2006, but I was about $300 short. Next year the price went up, but I was still hoping to do it some day. I think we all have to get together and lynch you.
    Just kidding. Don’t blame yourself. Could happen to anyone here.

  • Farnborough John

    Seems odd that a government that purports to be a world power couldn’t find the balance between control and customer satisfaction in the first place. Its not like there isn’t any experience across the globe in managing access to scarce animals in difficult habitat e.g. Gorillas.

  • morganchurchill

    Well that sucks…

    I can understand cracking down on the companies (especially with that panda cub incident), but it seems like tighter regulation would have been the more intelligent response. But I guess just plain banning foreign access to shutting down everything is the lazier/simpler response.

  • mattinidaho

    I know ecotourism has its problems, but I have never seen actual evidence how discontinuing a wildlife viewing program has made it BETTER for the wildlife. In reality, it often leads to the wildlife disappearing.

    The focus, it would seem to me, should be on better managing wildlife tourism, not eliminating it.

    There is a lot of hand wringing from certain environmentalists about the disastrous effects of tourism in places like the Galapagos and India tiger reserves. And certainly, there is tourism that hurts rather than helps these places. However, would there be a Galapagos without wildlife tourism? Would there be Indian tigers? I think a certain faction of environmentalists believe that humans should never engage with the natural world–that anything we do is a “threat.”

    It seems a better policy have sensible management of wildlife tourism, rather than elimination. Coke, I find your blogs to always be sensitive to wildlife and to promote conservation. I would not blame yourself. I strongly suspect this new policy will not help panda populations in any way.

    • PandaSmith

      Thanks Matt! I am glad my blogs come off that way – it is the intention. I know that ecotourism can be done wrong for sure, but it can also be done very, very right. I wish China could come to some middle ground here. There is so much to see there. It’s arguably my favorite wildlife destination on the planet. Simply an amazing fauna there.

  • Israel

    some of the reserves are still open to foreigners (I’ve just been at Labahe and Wanglang for instance, over the last three months) but your chances of giant pandas are not good. I think peoples’ best bet if wanting to try would be Labahe where giant panda droppings are common on the boardwalks.

  • PandaSmith

    I have heard that Labahe gives a chance for a spotting of a wild panda. There are some images out there of pandas walking up and down the boardwalk….Right time, right place, I suppose!

  • Jurek

    Hi, don’t blame yourselves, anyone. This is not your fault.

    Everybody knows that pandas are much more disturbed by Chinese and local hordes of free-running dogs. Fighting eco-tourism is a sort of window dressing for many governments. Somebody mentioned Galapagos and India already. Ecotourism is visible, so it is easy to fight foreign eco-tourism and tolerate local tourism, poaching, habitat destruction etc.

    I think after some time the Chinese government will realize it’s nonsense, re-open reserves, possibly initially demand even more outrageous money, and then back to normal.

    But honestly, I am accustomed that an occassional country goes crazy and is off-limits for a couple of years. There are so many animals that you can switch to different countries and different experiences. Pandas were exceptionally (cr*p) poor value for money anyway.

    • PandaSmith

      I hope you are correct. It is such a pity that people are not allowed to experience the pandas in their natural habitat. From my conversations with some of the local Chinese scientists and rangers I’ve met over the years, however, it is clear that the ones in charge are not at all interested in the money generated by the panda ecotourism projects. China is loaded and such ventures are a drop in the bucket… But as far as Pandas being poor value, I am not sure I’d agree. The 11 days we spent searching the Qinlings for the pandas and other wildlife was some of the cheapest wildlife expeditioning we’ve ever done by far. And my near-one-hour with a wild giant panda still ranks as my most treasured mammal viewing experience….

  • Kevin Zhong

    It’s a shame to see all those misleading information….
    I’m a local, I have been involved in guiding panda tracking tours since 15 years ago,
    First, It’s not just closed to foreigners, it is closed for anyone including Chinese. And not just what you said”Rich Foreigner”, but also some “Rich Chinese” clients too…
    Second, There indeed some improper behaviors by foreigner tour groups has been post in internet, Public think it is negative… so…
    3rd, Anyway, completely close of a nature reserve for protecting wildlife is the right of a country, and which helps the panda status change from Endanger to Vulnerable. Isn’t it sounds great news?
    4th, Don’t think too high of yourself CokeSmith, You’re using Panda as a business, but the government is protecting pandas and their habitats, that should be your main reason of upset. I have same issue with loosing guiding job, and I understand what Eco tourism means. but I give completely understanding to this policy as long as this is the best way to give a no disturbing environment for pandas.
    In the old time, you’re blaming China for not protecting wildlife, but now you’re blaming China for protecting panda too much? just because you loose your panda business?

    • Matt

      Hello Kevin Zhong, I’m very interested in going to look for pandas. Is it possible at all nowadays? You can add my wechat if you would like! I’m in Kunming.

      WeChat: matthewsorenson

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