Sometimes, of course, the scientists in the field do get lucky. One of the researchers I met at Front Royal, Wang Dajun, a research scientist at Peking University who trained with the Smithsonian and collaborates with the species survival team, spends most of his time tracking pandas on the preserves in western China. He was explaining to me that wild pandas’ elusiveness is more a matter of their hard-to-navigate habitat and their solitary behavior, rather than any fear of humans; they don’t actually seem to mind humans very much. He began to grin, and then explained that one female panda that was tracked beginning in 1989 had become particularly relaxed in his presence. She was so relaxed, in fact, that one spring morning, as she was walking with her cub, she turned to Wang and indicated that she wanted him to babysit so she could head off to feed. Another scientist filmed this episode of Wang providing panda child care. In the video, now posted on YouTube, you will be struck not only by the amazing sight of a panda cub tumbling and frolicking with Wang, but also by the look of utter joy on Wang’s face as he scratches the cub’s belly, extracts the sleeve of his jacket from the cub’s inquisitive grip, and, then, at one point, hoists the cub up in the air and dances with him. "That," Wang writes on the YouTube page, "was best time in my life."The panda, named Sun, was about a year and a half old at the time of filming. In 2010, when Dajun Wang posted the video, he was still going strong at the age of 16. Wikipedia reports that pandas in the wild typically have a lifespan of 20 years.
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