We humans have caused a great deal of harm to the planet and its wild inhabitants over the past few centuries, but we get credit for all the strange ways we try to make amends.
For staff members at the Hetaoping Panda Center in Wolong, China, that means donning a black-and-white panda suit spritzed in panda urine. The outfit is meant to shelter young captive-bred panda cubs from human contact, in hopes that small amount of "distance" will give them a fighting chance at being successfully introduced into the wild.
There are currently fewer than 2,000 great pandas left in the wild, but these adorable creatures have come a long way since they were first declared endangered in 1990. Not only are captive breeding efforts becoming more fruitful each year, but rewilding efforts have been increasingly successful too.
Whether or not panda cubs are fooled by fake panda costumes is unclear, but rewilding represents hope for a species that now roams only 1 percent of its historical range.
Writer Jennifer S. Holland and photographer Ami Vitale recently teamed up to report on China's ambitious panda conservation efforts for National Geographic's August 2016 issue. Continue below for a selection of Vitale's captivating images, and be sure to read the story over on the National Geographic website.
Zhang Hemin — "Papa Panda" to his staff — poses with cubs born in 2015 at Bifengxia Panda Base. "Some local people say giant pandas have magic powers," says Zhang, who directs many of China’s panda conservation efforts. "To me, they simply represent beauty and peace."
Blind, nearly hairless, squeaky, and 1/900 the size of its mother, a newborn panda is as needy as it gets. But it won’t be for long: The panda is among the fastest-growing mammals, increasing from around four ounces to four pounds in its first month.
Caretaker Li Feng cradles her precious charge by the window of Bifengxia's panda nursery, the most popular stop for visitors touring the facilities. More than 400,000 people visit each year to glimpse and snap photos of China's most beloved baby animals.
Wolong Reserve keepers transport Hua Jiao (Delicate Beauty) for a health check before she finishes "wild training." The habitat also protects red pandas, pheasant, tufted deer and other species that benefit from giant panda conservation.