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Pandas: In the Wild and on the Big Screen

Pandas: In the Wild and on the Big ScreenUpon his return to the United States, postdoctoral researcher and Drexel alumnus Jacob Owens, PhD, received an urgent phone call: Qian Qian, a captive-born giant panda who had been recently released into the wild, was in danger.

Qian Qian is the precocious star of the new IMAX film “Pandas,” a documentary that features the work of researchers from Drexel University and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China. Together, these institutions are working to safely release giant pandas bred in captivity into the wild to increase their population.

The Chengdu Panda Base called on Drexel Professor James Spotila, PhD, and his postdoc Owens, as they were developing the panda- release program. Spotila recommended using a “soft release” technique developed by his former student Benjamin Kilham, PhD, on orphaned black bear cubs. The technique pairs a scientist with each bear upon its release — allowing the scientist to monitor the panda’s progress through GPS tracking.

Qian Qian had been in the wild for two months before her GPS collar stopped detecting movement. After hearing the news, Owens booked the first flight back to China. He had been working with the 3-and-a-half-year-old bear since she was only 6 months old.

Owens and Drexel grad student Wenlei Bi found Qian Qian injured in the forest — too weak to move after being attacked by a predator.

Despite her injury, she was nursed back to health and is awaiting her release to a more appropriate location.

To learn more about Qian Qian’s adventures and Drexel’s collaboration with the Chengdu Panda Base, catch “Pandas,” narrated by actress Kristen Bell, in IMAX theaters nationwide. For showtimes, visit imax.com/movies/pandas.

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