5 min read

These Panda Selfies Are The Opposite Of Cute

"A selfie with a wild animal sends the message that the animal's worth is tied up in its entertainment value."

Panda selfies just surfaced from a massive panda breeding center in China, sparking a flurry of "awws" on one side and raised eyebrows on the other.

Giant panda breeding in China is a complicated industry, with apparently good intentions - saving the giant panda from extinction - and big bucks at stake.

These breeding centers are run by different arms of the Chinese government and vary in their practices. In addition to leasing out pandas to zoos all over the world, some breeding centers sell tickets to tourists who want to get close to the iconic animals. Other centers claim to keep pandas far from people so that they can be reintroduced into the wild.

Although it was elsewhere reported that the panda shown in the recent selfies - who lives at the Dujiangyan Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding - is participating in a release program, Suzanne Braden, director of Pandas International, said this is incorrect.

"Yes the cute panda having his picture taken is at the Dujiangyan Panda Base, but this base does not participate in the reintroduction program," Braden told The Dodo. "The reintroduction program is in Wolong at two bases totally off-limits to the public. No panda in the reintroduction program comes in contact with humans."

Some advocates say selfies send the wrong message about interactions with wild animals.

"Dujiangyan Panda Base should be using its influence to educate the public about pandas' natural behaviors, not offering an opportunity for selfies with a helpless bear," Kate Dylewsky, program associate at Born Free USA, told The Dodo. "A selfie with a wild animal sends the message that the animal's worth is tied up in its entertainment value ... [celebrating] the animals who have been coerced into behaving the least like wild animals - and that's not conservation. That's exploitation."

And even though the giant panda has recently been taken off the endangered species list, some are skeptical of the methodologies used to reach this conclusion and of whether the wild population is actually rebounding.

"China hasn't established a habitat of quality and quantity or mitigated the problems that cause these animals to be endangered in the first place," Dr. Kati Loeffler, previously director of animal health at a different breeding center in China, told The Dodo in October.

Illegal logging in panda habitats threatens the species, and pandas in the wild are sometimes accidentally hurt by traps set by hunters aiming to capture other animals.

There are just about only 1,800 pandas left in the wild.

To learn what you can do to help giant pandas, click here.