The life and work of UK teddy bear artist Paula Carter.
Visit my website: www.allbearbypaula.com
Friday 22 April 2022
A black and white memory
A BLACK AND WHITE MEMORY
There is something so appealing about a panda bear don't you think?! I don't make many each year, but as a teddy bear maker, I always enjoy putting my own vision to the panda theme...
The panda bear is a member of the bear family and is called 'Da Xiong Mao' in China, meaning Giant Bear Cat. Giant Pandas mainly live in large bamboo forests in mountain areas of southwest China’s Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. The mountains are about 1200-3500 metres above sea level and covered with dense bamboo forest, which is the giant panda’s food.
One little panda bear cub called Chi-Chi, was caught in the wild in 1955 and taken to Beijin Zoo in China. She subsequently travelled from China to Russia, where she failed to mate successfully so was moved to Frankfurt Zoo, prior to being loaned to several further European Zoos. Poor Chi-Chi was shunted from pillar to post and even sold to a US zoo in Illinois (but refused entry to the US as a result of a trade embargo)... Chi-Chi eventually arrived in England and in 1958, was purchased by London Zoo for the princely sum of £12,000. There had been several pandas at London Zoo since the late 1930's, but sadly earlier panda bears had only lived short lives in captivity, so it was hoped Chi-Chi might be successfully mated to produce cubs.
Chi-Chi the panda cub was playful and cute and quickly became a much loved attraction at London Zoo, drawing visitors and media coverage from far and wide. I recall the thrill of visiting her with my parents at London Zoo's Mapin Terraces, in the mid 1960's.
As pandas were worringly rare in the wild and generally lived short lives in captivity, attempts were made to breed from Chi-Chi. It is believed they were unsuccessful because she had been raised by humans and simply didn't know how to respond to a male of her own species. Nevertheless, Chi-Chi became the inspiration behind the original 'World Wildlife Foundation' logo (a poster I proudly displayed on my bedroom wall as a young girl!) and the symbol of international wildlife conservation and hope for the future.
At age eleven years, Chi-Chi sadly died in captivity in 1972 and was mourned by the nation. Her body was preserved after her death and is now exhibited in London's Natural History Museum. It is worth noting, that in the wild, panda bears are known to live for twenty to thirty years.
The first toy panda bear toy was designed by Richard Steiff in 1938, in recognition of the first giant panda bear arriving in America, in 1937. Thanks to Chi-Chi and the other London Zoo pandas, panda bear toys became popular gifts for young children in the UK from the 1960's and were produced by British manufacturers such as Chiltern, Deans and Merrythought. Like many other children, I was given a panda bear toy as a baby in the early 60's and have an old black and white a photograph of me, snuggled with my panda bear, as a baby. I can only assume that this gift, together with the visit to see Chi-Chi at London Zoo as a little girl, stayed with me and continues to inspire my own panda bear designs!
Sadly the panda bear, considered a national treasure in China, still has 'vulnerable' status in the wild today, a status upgraded from 'endangered' only recently. There are currently only 1,864 wild pandas recorded in existence, but thankfully, due to the work of the WWF to prevent further human encroachment onto their natural habitats, together with the recognition of the importance of the panda by the Chinese Government, numbers of these beautiful bamboo eating creatures are slowly increasing; although it should be stated that they still remain scattered, vulnerable and in need of awareness to further protect their habitat.
After being taken from the wild as a cub, poor Chi-Chi lived out her life behind bars, at the beck and call of mankind. It is a sad tale witnessed through the eyes of an adult, yet through the eyes of a child I admit, it was a magical experience to be able to visit her in the UK.
If you would like to read more about the panda bear and support the work of the World Wildlife Foundation, please follow this link...