The Man Who Hunted Pandas
AS TOLD TO “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN TAIWAN
IT WAS a shivery, drizzly December day at the London Zoological Gardens. I had not realized how seasonal zoo-going is until I found myself on the bus out from Marble Arch to the zoo with only one other passenger aboard. Why had I chosen to visit the London zoo at such a time?
The answer lay before me that morning. I had walked from the ticket office of the zoo beneath the dripping trees, past huge old-fashioned iron cages containing lions and other animals. But, really, I had no time to look at all of them. I would be in London only one day and I had come to the zoo to see something special. I finally reached the right enclosure.
There before me lay a huge mound of coarse white fur with a shoulder stripe of black. It was curled into an immense ball, fast asleep. I began tapping my ring against the glass window to awaken this deep sleeper. Slowly, one little shoe-button eye was uncovered by a reluctant eyelid. We sized each other up. I was fulfilling a childhood dream. I was looking at a living panda!
A Childhood Dream
There are probably thousands of Londoners who have never seen a panda, though this one, Chi-Chi, had lived there for some fourteen years. Why was seeing a panda so important to me? There were two reasons. They happened half a world apart and were separated by more than three decades.
Some may remember that in 1936 many were thrilled at newspaper accounts of the arrival at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago of a delightful ‘new bear from China.’ It was a black-and-white panda that resembled the stuffed teddy bears that accompany millions of children to bed each night.
Those newspaper reports also interested twenty-two-year-old Quentin Young of China. It was he who had started that panda on its long journey from the bamboo forests of Szechwan to the United States. Quentin Young had been the first man known to have touched a living, unwounded panda.
As a naturalist and hunter in China’s rugged interior and western provinces, Quentin Young had given the world outside of China its first glimpse of China’s pai hsiung, meaning white bear.
I Meet the Hunter
Thirty-three years later, as a new arrival in Taiwan, I was chatting with my language instructor, or lao shr (professor), following a two-hour lesson. He had introduced the subject of the panda, speaking softly and with reticence. It was the second or third week of our acquaintance.
“Tell me,” he inquired, “have you ever heard of the panda?” The answer, of course, was a smiling and interested Yes. “I do not quite know how to tell you this without making it seem boastful,” he continued, “but I caught the first live panda.”
I enthusiastically asked (recalling what I had read in 1936): “Was that the one that went to a zoo in Chicago? Was her name Su-Lin?”
“Yes!” he responded with delight, bounding to his feet. “You even know its name!” It was named after my brother’s wife.”
You probably guessed it. My language instructor was Quentin Young, the man who hunted pandas. Quentin carefully referred to the panda as “it.” Why so? Because they had first guessed the animal to be a female, giving it the name Su-Lin (meaning “little bit of something precious”). But later they discovered that “she” was really a “he.”
Actually, it is quite difficult to determine the sex of a panda unless the animal is anesthetized and examined, as was London’s Chi-Chi years ago. Hence, the confusion about Su-Lin and of others who followed “her.”
The Panda Is Not a Bear
Just what is a panda? What is so special about it? Why was it necessary for me to visit London to see one? We will soon see.
A panda is often called a bear. In fact, when they were first noted by naturalists in 1869 they were called panda bears. But zoologists have long since recognized that this is incorrect. They now place the panda (which does not hibernate) somewhere between the raccoon and a small animal called the lesser panda. Bone structure, too, is different. It has what is called the ‘sixth claw,’ which is really a hardened bony pad that serves somewhat like an opposable thumb for grasping. There are other anatomical differences, too, that indicate the panda is not a bear.
What does a panda look like? Let me describe Chi-Chi, who had decided to open her other eye. Her tiny eyes give the appearance of being quite large. The panda’s face is white, but its eyes are set in two black patches at a peculiar angle. This gives the panda a winsome and soulful look. A shiny black nose and two perfectly round black ears rise from the surrounding white fur to complete a face that has caused many a professional hunter to swear off killing pandas.
As she began to unwind herself from her ball-like position, I was able to examine the rest of Chi-Chi’s body. I could see that Chi-Chi’s kind is definitely a white animal with black trim, not the opposite. All four legs are black. The tummy area between the hind legs is white. The black front legs are attached to a black band that encircles the body across the shoulders and around the chest. A clearer division of colors in mammals could not be found except perhaps in the zebra. The total effect of the panda is to make you want to hug it, though this would be ill advised, especially when one considers the size of the subject at maturity. A full-grown panda weighs between 200 and 250 pounds.
Chi-Chi yawned. She thereby revealed the enormous molars that caused anatomists to classify her kind among the carnivores, or meat eaters. Though Chi-Chi’s early zoo diet included chicken every other day, the panda gives refutation to “higher criticism of the Bible” that denies that all flesh first fed on vegetation. Though pandas can eat meat, they rarely do so. They prefer sinarundaria, a kind of bamboo that grows to a height of ten or fifteen feet with culms (trunks) an inch and a half in diameter. Sinarundaria is rocklike for hardness.
Thus, the kind of teeth an animal has may not depend upon whether the diet is meat or vegetable, but on what kind of vegetation the animal may have been designed to eat, how hard that vegetation is, how resistant to being sundered.
When I visited London, Chi-Chi was the only panda to be seen outside of the Communist countries. The natural range of the panda is principally concentrated in Szechwan Province in China. Some are found in Tibet and surrounding regions. Its entire range in all the world is one contiguous location with three sides that may be expressed generously as each being 500 miles long. Pandas are also limited by temperature needs to elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, and by diet to the bamboo forests that ring the snow lines of the mountains.
Chi-Chi since died at the age of fifteen, very close to the expected seventeen-year life-span for pandas in captivity. But happily now for children of all ages outside of China, Russia and North Korea, there are new arrivals in Tokyo and two pandas can be seen in Washington, D.C. The latter’s names are Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing (pronounced Shing-Shing).
Capturing the First Live Panda
Would you like to know how the first live panda was captured? Listen to Quentin Young’s own story of that event.
“I was employed by a widowed American woman to accomplish the project in which her husband had died when attempting it. He had wanted to bring a live panda to the United States. Together, aboard boat, on foot, by wheelbarrow and sedan chair, we traversed almost 2,000 miles from coastal Shanghai to the forests beyond Chengtu.
“Why a boat? The Yangtze is the answer. China’s great languid river was our route to Chungking. It is a lazy river, though always bustling with traffic. People, dogs and chickens can be heard chattering, barking, cackling and crowing along its banks—up to Hankow! But then its personality changes. Cliffs rise to almost 2,000 feet. These are the famous Yangtze Gorges. Yet, so vital a link in traffic is this river that gangs of laboring coolies lean against hard bamboo ropes from as high as a hundred feet up the cliff walls to drag small boats (called junks) up against the thundering downstream current.
“Why by foot, sedan chair, wheelbarrow? Our going ashore at Chungking left us with many miles between us and pai hsiung, the panda. By the time you are in Chungking the topography of the earth is beginning to swell upward toward the great mountain mass of the Himalayas.
“When shouting, would-be vendors and just curious people were not milling about us, dust swirled up to engulf us. Bandits harassed us. Coolies and porters lugging our supplies disappeared as wages satisfied their need for opium. We fought the whipping branches of trees as roads dropped out of existence. When it rained, dust became mud. We threaded our way through the magnificent rhododendron forests of Szechwan. As the elevation increased, the temperature dropped.
“After the complications of our expedition, the actual finding of the panda was amazingly simple. We had given orders that pandas were not to be shot until a live one had been captured. Traps had been set.
“Mrs. Harkness and I set out to check the traps. Suddenly shots shattered the silence! Shouting ahead of us indicated that hunters, excited at the sight of a panda, had defied the order. Men raced forward responding to the cry pai hsiung! pai hsiung! We too ran, but did not follow the others as they pursued the possibly wounded animal.
“The forest quieted around us as their cries diminished in the distance. We emerged from dense bamboo into an area of large trees. Then I heard something. It was a small, babylike sound, coming from a hollow tree.
“I put my hands into the hollow and drew them out cuddling Su-Lin. ‘She’ (as we then thought) was just two handfuls in size. I thought, ‘What is this little thing? It is a toy.’ I gave it to Mrs. Harkness with the feeling of ‘Well, you take it back and play with it. I will get on with the business of hunting for real pandas—adults.’ But without telling me she had made up her mind weeks before that what she really wanted was a baby panda. With great practicality she had decided that a young panda would be more portable. What none of us counted on was that this small squirming object would touch some common chord of emotion all over the world.”
Twice, then, this same man had interested me in pandas. But we had still another thing in common. It is related to the reason I now live in Taiwan. I am a missionary of Jehovah’s witnesses. Quentin and I had talked many times about the Bible, for which he has great respect. His wife was studying with Jehovah’s witnesses. He thought that he, too, might study someday. At times we talked about preaching among the Chinese, but, most of all, we spoke of his own personal relationship with man’s Creator, Jehovah. And so one day I was privileged to become his lao shr, teaching him the Bible.
The happy result was that Quentin Young, who once hunted pandas, now searches out Jehovah’s sheeplike ones.