Panda Fandom And Giant Panda Welfare
In China, the giant panda is a national icon. “Panda fandom” describes the intense relationship between tourists and pandas, which manifests in zoo visits, souvenir collections, and social media engagement. This study investigated how Chinese panda “fans” and “non-fans” think about the welfare of captive giant pandas. Specifically, it studied the two groups’ views on whether or not pandas consent to being used as tourist attractions. The study used the concept of “animal-informed consent,” which emphasizes examining an animal’s emotions and how well they’re treated to see if they consent to being used in a certain way by humans.
The research team designed a two-part questionnaire. Surveys were collected over the course of a week in November, 2022 from Chinese tourists at Chengdu Panda Base, a public, non-profit breeding and research institute for pandas. The first part of the survey determined whether participants were fans or non-fans based on self-identification and engagement with panda-related social media.
Of the final sample of 217 participants, 54% identified as panda fans and 46% as non-fans. Participants were asked to score eight indicators of welfare and consent: nutrition, physical health, mental health, the quality of the enclosure, and the animal’s interactions with the environment, other animals, keepers, and tourists.
The results showed that fans paid more attention to each welfare indicator than non-fans did. Although the differences were not statistically significant, fans scored all indicators other than enclosure enrichments higher than non-fans did. In other words, fans may have perceived the welfare of pandas more positively. However, both fans and non-fans scored all animal welfare indicators highly, which supports previous research that tourists believe that pandas are well taken care of and enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. The only statistically significant difference between fans and non-fans is that fans believed that pandas willingly consent to being used as a tourist attraction, and would be able to express this willingness.
Both panda fans and non-fans were more likely to view the pandas as their friends than to have some other relationship with the panda. However, non-fans were more likely to see pandas as a simple tourist attraction. Panda fans were twice as likely as non-fans to view the pandas as a member of their family.
Panda fans may see the animals as their friends or family, but that does not mean that the fans know or understand pandas better than non-fans. Instead, fans may be projecting their own feelings onto the panda. The feelings of panda fans may well reflect their idealized relationship between animals and humans more than the actual well-being of the pandas. Still, panda fans are concerned about the pandas’ welfare, which may influence them to support panda advocacy campaigns.