Rewilding Pandas in China

9 Jan 2017 2016 OUTDOOR

China has cracked the puzzle of successfully breeding pandas in captivity, and now they’re releasing them into the wild, where the animals face risks. Photographer Ami Vitale spent three years documenting these fascinating bears.

Featuring: Ami Vitale

Presented by

National Geographic

Curated by

Sadie Quarrier


In a region where grim environmental news is common, the giant panda might prove to be the exception. Many decades of human population growth and land conversion have decreased panda numbers—but the Chinese now have both the tools and the plans to turn things around, thanks largely to the perseverance of scientists and conservationists.

China has begun boosting current panda populations and creating new ones by breeding the iconic bears in captivity; they’ve already released a handful into the wild. Zhang Hemin directs the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, which oversees multiple facilities dedicated to the animals’ care and breeding. The operation’s current emphasis “is to release, release, release,” says Zhang, who’s known as Papa Panda for his devotion to the bears. “Now we have to make sure there’s good habitat and then put pandas in it.”

The ultimate hope of panda lovers and preservationists? Not just to put pandas back into the wild, but to put the wild back into pandas.

Photographer Ami Vitale has recently turned her lens to documenting compelling wildlife stories and spent three years documenting these fascinating bears. “Rewilding Pandas” appeared in the August 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.


Ami Vitale’s journey as a photographer and filmmaker has taken her to 94 countries, where she has witnessed civil unrest and violence but also surreal beauty and the enduring power of the human spirit. Vitale is an Ambassador for Nikon and a contract photographer with National Geographic magazine.

Her work is exhibited around the world in museums and galleries and are part of numerous private collections. She has garnered prestigious awards, including multiple prizes from World Press Photos, the International Photographer of the Year prize, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting, and Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, among others.

Vitale is a founding member of Ripple Effect Images, a collective of scientists, writers, photographers, and filmmakers with a mission of creating powerful stories illustrating the very specific issues women in developing countries face. She is also a member of the Executive Advisory Committee of the Alexia Foundation’s Photojournalism Advisory Board.

Now based in Montana, Vitale continues to make films and stories of the planet’s most pressing issues and frequently gives lectures and workshops throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia.


National Geographic magazine has a long tradition of combining on-the-ground reporting with award-winning photography to inform people about life on our planet.

It has won 20 National Magazine Awards in the past eight years: for Tablet Magazine and Photography in 2015; for Tablet Magazine and Multimedia in 2014; for General Excellence, Photography, Tablet Magazine and Multimedia in 2013; for Tablet Magazine in 2012; Magazine of the Year and Single-Topic Issue in 2011; for General Excellence, Photojournalism and Essays, plus two Digital Media Awards for Best Photography and Best Community in 2010; for Photojournalism in 2009; and for General Excellence, Photojournalism and Reporting in 2008.

The magazine is the official journal of the National Geographic Society, a global non-profit membership organization, driven by a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world. Published in English and with nearly 40 local-language editions, National Geographic magazine has a global circulation of around 6.7 million. It is sent each month to National Geographic members and is available at and on print and digital newsstands (smartphones and tablet computers).