Working with Giant Pandas
Since the arrival of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang at the National Zoo in 2000, many people have asked about how they can to pursue their dream of working with giant pandas, one of the most endangered species on the planet.
It is important to understand that working with pandas rarely means that you can routinely be close to pandas. In the wild, pandas are shy, solitary creatures that are rarely seen even by people who study them day after day. Biologists spend much more time looking at panda poop than at the whole animal. In zoos, keepers and veterinarians may interact with pandas every day, but they respect the fact that pandas are large, potentially dangerous animals and keep their distance.
In general, direct contact with pandas occurs only in health-related situations, such as a panda getting a physical examination. Sometimes a scientist may capture and anesthetize a wild panda to attach a radio collar or check its condition.
What's more, only a few zoos outside of China exhibit pandas, so job opportunities with direct contact with pandas are very limited and would likely involve your relocating. The National Zoo (Washington, D.C.), Memphis Zoo (Tennessee), San Diego Zoo (California), and Zoo Atlanta (Georgia) are the only four zoos in the U.S. where giant pandas can be found. Only two giant pandas live in all of continental Europe, both at the Berlin Zoo in Germany. A few more are in zoos in Asia.
Despite this, dedicated people can make a difference for the future of wild pandas. So please do not be discouraged from pursuing your dream. Explore other ways to help giant pandas. For instance, you might become a teacher who specializes in environmental education. Or become a writer who shares information about pandas with others. Or a fundraiser who finds donations to help giant panda conservation programs.
Or you can pursue a career related to other species of animals. You'll find how fascinating other animals are when you begin to learn about them. Did you know, for instance, that African elephants hear sounds miles away through the soles of their feet? See a list of animal-related careers.