French sculptor Paulo Grangeon has brought his “1,600 pandas” exhibition to Malaysia to raise awareness about the number of the animals now left in the wild.
Grangeon braved the heat and jetlag on a whistle-stop visit to Kuala Lumpur to launch the exhibition in the capital’s Merdeka Square. His aim is to promote conservation of wild pandas and their habitat.
When Grangeon began his project in 2008 in collaboration with the WWF, there were about 1,600 of the animals in the wild. There are now estimated to be about 1,700.
Pandas live mainly in forests high in the mountains of western China, where they subsist almost entirely on bamboo. They eat between 12 and 38 kilos of it every day.
Female pandas are only fertile for a few days each year and conserving the populations is being made increasingly difficult because roads cut through their habitat.
The WWF says roads and railroads are increasingly fragmenting the forest, which isolates panda populations and prevents mating.
“Forest destruction also reduces pandas’ access to the bamboo they need to survive,” the WWF said. “The Chinese government has established more than 50 panda reserves, but only about 61 percent of the country’s panda population is protected by these reserves.
“Hunting remains an ever-present threat. Poaching the animals for their fur has declined due to strict laws and greater public awareness of the panda’s protected status. But hunters seeking other animals in panda habitats continue to kill pandas accidentally.”
Grangeon said today that each exhibition was a new challenge and a new victory in the battle to protect the panda. “Today is a celebration of how we are infusing the elements of art in educating the public about this urgent message.
“I am convinced that, if all of us work together for the betterment of our environment, we can preserve it for future generations.”
The papier-mâché pandas will spend a month in Malaysia, promoting “creative conservation” and traveling to more than 15 locations, including the famous Batu Caves in KL, the world heritage city of Melaka, and the island of Penang.
There will be a grande finale for the pandas in the Publika shopping mall in KL’s Hartamas Heights.
The exhibition has already gone to 100 locations in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
The pandas are designed by Grangeon, but most of them are made by women in a village in northern Thailand. They are manufactured using recycled paper and cooked rice glue and are hand-painted with biological paint and coated with latex-free varnish. They are not waterproof, but can withstand rain and sun for several hours.
New pandas have to be made for each exhibition and, so far, more than 10,000 have been created.
Each time the exhibition ends in a city, members of the public can buy the pandas under the 1,600 pandas “adoption” scheme.
Grangeon made four special-edition pandas to go on display in Hong Kong and is expected to make some for Malaysia as well.