Panda Fans Question Museum’s Taxidermied Specimen
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2017-08-21 12:13:11

A science museum in northeastern China has defended its exhibition of a taxidermied giant panda after it was criticized by ardent fans of China’s national animal, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Saturday.

On Aug. 11, one day before the opening of the exhibition, the Jinshitan Mystery of Life Museum in Dalian, Liaoning province, posted pictures of the panda specimen covered with a red cloth on its Weibo microblog. Sui Hongjin, the museum’s founder, shared the images — with the caption “Lifting your red bridal veil! I’m crying from laughter!” — and joked about the panda’s black-ringed eyes being the result of a beating.

But making light of the widely revered bear did not go over well with China’s numerous panda fans. “At medical school, we are told not to take pictures of animals or specimens used in experiments, because it’s very disrespectful,” 24-year-old medical student Chen Junwei told Sixth Tone. “It’s hard to tell whether they are truly doing scientific research.” A panda fan himself, Chen was one of many who joined the chorus of criticism on Weibo.

Netizen panda fans questioned the legitimacy of the exhibition and accused Sui and his team of profiting from the specimen by charging a relatively high fee of 100 yuan ($15) per ticket, according to The Paper. Others questioned the need to stuff a panda in the first place.

In response, Sui published a statement on Friday in which he said it was hard to suppress his joy after successfully performing taxidermy on a panda. He said it took his team almost one year to confirm the feasibility of stuffing a panda, which included getting permission from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), a government institution.

In February, the CCRCGP announced that a panda named Xinni’er had died from an intestinal blockage, and that its body would be turned into a taxidermied specimen for the purpose of science education.

A taxidermy technique called plastination, which replaces water and fat with plastics, was used on Xinni’er. “Traditional stuffing techniques could not preserve the animals’ organs or muscles, but plastination can,” Sui told The Paper. Currently, only the panda’s skin is on display. Its bones, muscles, and organs will be exhibited later this year.

Sun Quanhui, a senior science consultant at World Animal Protection, an international animal welfare nonprofit, told The Paper that while it was acceptable for the museum to use Xinni’er for educational purposes, he was afraid commercializing stuffed rare animals could lead to poaching. Sun also called for more attention to animal species that are in graver danger of extinction than the panda.

Though the giant panda was removed from the list of endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2016, China still runs a large panda-breeding program that millions of people follow closely. In 2013, state broadcaster CCTV’s online arm launched iPanda, a website with 24/7 livestreams from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Last year, more than 700,000 net users tuned in to a special broadcast during the animal’s mating season.

And regardless of the criticisms, plenty of people have found their way to the exhibition in Dalian. “Recently, we have had more than 10,000 visitors per day,” Fan Yexian, an employee at the museum’s exhibition division, told Sixth Tone on Monday. “Most of them were delighted to see the specimen.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Two employees unveil the stuffed panda at the Jinshitan Mystery of Life Museum in Dalian, Liaoning province, Aug. 12, 2017. From the museum’s Weibo account)