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'Pandas Gone Wild' | © Ami Vitale, United States of America / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards
'Pandas Gone Wild' | © Ami Vitale, United States of America / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards
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'Pandas Gone Wild' Shortlisted for International Photography Prize

Picture of Alex Jordan
Travel Editor
Updated: 1 March 2017

While it might look sinister, the striking image above shows a tender moment between a giant panda cub and its carer. Taken at the Wolong Nature Reserve in the Sichuan province of China, Pandas Gone Wild has been shortlisted for the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards.

‘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.

Rescuing Qing Qing | © Pandas International

Rescuing Qing Qing | © Pandas International

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.

Rescuing cubs | © Panda International

Rescuing cubs | © Panda International

‘Now there is a glimmer of hope, as years of research are finally paying off. In a region where bad environmental news is common, China cracked the code and is on its way to successfully saving its most famous ambassador. The giant panda was recently taken off the endangered species list!’ says Vitale.
Her work, Pandas Gone Wild, has been nominated for this year’s Sony World Photography Awards in the ‘Natural World’ category. Here are some other awe-inspiring entries that may yet take the top prize.
'Buffaloes and stars' | © Andreas Hemb / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Buffaloes and Stars | © Andreas Hemb, Sweden / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

'Jacks at Cabo Pulmo' | © Christian Vizl, Mexico / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Jacks at Cabo Pulmo | © Christian Vizl, Mexico / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

'Moody.'| © Ann Ric, Malaysia / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Moody | © Ann Ric, Malaysia / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

'Diamond Dust' | © Masayasu Sakuma, Japan / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Lady in Red | © Placido Faranda, Italy / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

'Lonely Tree' | © Tom Jacobi, Germany / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Lonely Tree | © Tom Jacobi, Germany / 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

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.