A few days ago I came across an article accompanied by bizarre images of baby pandas being examined and cared for by people dressed in panda costumes. This was particularly funny to me because I've always said that pandas, with their enormous round heads and big black eyes, look like they could be people in mascot costumes.
Upon reading the article I learned that this was not some surrealist performance art project but actually a very serious ongoing effort by China to reinstate the country’s population of the critically endangered species. Currently, there are less then 2500 giant pandas in the wild and the World Wildlife Federation has warned that the animals could be extinct in "two to three generations."
Through a variety of creative techniques (including Viagra) to encourage pandas to mate in captivity, China's Woolong Panda Reserve has managed to reach their goal of 300 captive bred pandas, and they re now beginning to reintroduce them to their natural habitat. The people wearing the panda costumes are actually conservationists who are monitoring baby panda cubs born in the reserve. The researchers says that this elaborate (and seemingly absurd) effort is all to ensure that the baby pandas never have a chance to acclimate to humans and can therefore be successfully reintegrated in to the wild. However, they also admit that they don't really know if the panda costumes are effectively fooling the cubs. But, hey, at the very least it makes for some great photos.