Thursday, June 26, 2008


Pandas International • P.O. Box 620335 • Littleton, Colorado 80162 • 303.933.2365

Beginning at the End

From Pandas International Director, Suzanne Braden, from Wolong Reserve, China — I have a hard time with funerals. I never could have anticipated the one I attended a few days ago. When I began my journey to Wolong, I knew it would be difficult but I never could have expected how it ended!The profound grief was deeply felt by everyone attending. Voices cracked, and tears flowed. Dr. Li spoke fondly of the deceased.

After the headstone, a large rock, was placed, two apples and a large slice of panda bread were set out for Mao Mao by her caretaker, He Changgui. These items were for her Journey.

After the staff had left the burial site, He Changgui laid his head on my shoulder and we both cried. I put my arm around him and told him he must look after her babies and their babies for future generations to love and care for.

Mao Mao was one of the two pandas listed as still missing after the May 12th earthquake. Unfortunately she was in her enclosure the entire time. Mao Mao, only 9 years old, was rescued from the wild and brought to Wolong for care. She was well cared for and loved by all.

At Wolong she had several cubs including one set of twins. Staff referred to her as the “Hero Mother.

"What happened?
The Wolong panda reserve sits in a deep “V shaped” valley with mountains on both sides. The mountain on one side of the reserve came down in several spots, closing the main entrance gate, and causing major damage to several panda enclosures.

The mountain on the other side also experienced major rock/land slides. What I remember as a beautiful mountain covered with trees and foliage became a gray barren, desolate pile of rocks. Mao Mao’s enclosure was next to the river. The road to Wolong was right next to the river. The slide which came down on this side closed the road and blocked the river. The slide created a dam in the river, like in many other places in China. Due to the dam the water began to rise and staff worried it would come over the exterior wall into Mao Mao’s enclosure. Mao Mao must have been sitting close to the enclosure wall as the water was rising.

As the pressure of the water on the dam increased, the dam gave way to the force of the water behind it. The dam blew out in both directions with powerful force causing the wall next to Mao Mao to tumble in on top of her. Hopefully she never knew what hit her.

Not knowing where she was when the wall came down, staff thought she might have escaped the enclosure. It was not until the body began to decompose that the staff realized she might be buried under the wall. After arriving on Monday, I was told they felt confident that she was under the wall. Workers had been removing mud and debris on top of the wall for several days. This was a slow arduous process as all the work had to be totally done by hand since no large equipment could make it to the area.

Tuesday, June 10th, after a decontamination crew arrived, workers began to manually remove a large slab of the concrete wall. Workers lifted enough to get a rope around the top of the slab. Then as one set of workers pulled the rope others inserted medal bars to try to pry the portion of the wall up. When the piece was finally removed, it was difficult to see anything but mud. As the mud was shoveled away, a shape began to emerge, and the body was slowly exhumed. Dr. Wang used a transponder to read the Chip under the skin, to positively confirm Mao Mao’s identification. Dr. Li and Director Zhang confirmed the numeric ID. A small wooden box was brought in and remains were carefully placed inside. Everything was repeatedly sanitized for the health of the workers and staff. The funeral followed immediately. On May 12th we lost Mao Mao.

We are not sure at this time how may wild pandas have been lost. Pandas International is accepting memorial donations in memory of Mao Mao for use in the rebuilding efforts. To make a tax-deductible contribution, please send checks payable to

Pandas International at P.O. Box 620335 , Littleton , Colorado 80162 , or view daily updates and donate online at Complete reports of Journey to Wolong coming shortly.

Thanks DaveKay for passing this along

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