‘Is a cub fooled by a panda suit?’ asks photographer Ami Vitale, who captured the moment on camera. No one really knows, but it is thought that limiting their exposure to humans will help the cubs be more independent and better their chances of survival in the wild.
The photo was taken at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) in Wolong, which has been breeding giant pandas in captivity since 1981. Affiliated with US organisation Pandas International, the centre began a reintroduction program in 2003 and training the pandas for life in the wild.
The reserve, which covers 200,000ha (494,210 acres) with elevations ranging from 1,555m–4,600m (4,000–11,000 ft.) is home to around 80 of these notoriously prudish creatures, but was almost destroyed in 2008 during one of the country’s worst earthquakes.
The disaster, which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives, also flattened the giant panda reserve and its surrounding forests. Two pandas were killed, and several had to be rescued from their enclosures. It is not known how many wild pandas died, although one unconfirmed report said 15 bodies had been found.
The panda centre has since been rebuilt 23km (14.3 mi.) away in Gengda Town. The organisation also planted a large bamboo forest covering 275.6 hectares (about 680 acres) to replace what was either destroyed or covered by landslides during the earthquake.
The winning, shortlisted and commended images will all be exhibited as part of the Sony World Photography Awards & Martin Parr – 2017 Exhibition at Somerset House, London.