Pandas: The Journey Home (2014) Movie Script

In these mountains
roams one of the rarest species
on our planet.
A shy, elusive,
and gentle creature,
the giant panda.
Pandas once ranged
in great numbers
between Beijing
and the Himalayas.
But now, after centuries
of human expansion
and destruction
of their habitat,
they are on the brink
of extinction.
Today, fewer than 1,600
wild pandas remain.
But against all odds,
the people of China have begun
one of the greatest conservation
efforts in human history.
Their aim, to increase
the numbers in captivity,
and far more ambitiously,
to return pandas back to the wild,
to their natural home.
Ya 'an City in Sichuan province.
It's home
to panda keeper Liu Juan,
also known as Merry.
Merry has what many
might consider a dream job.
Every day she gets to hold, train,
and care for one of the world's
most beloved animals.
Every morning, Merry
and her colleagues commute
to the China Conservation
and Research Center
for the Giant Panda
in the Bifengxia Mountain Park.
This has become the focal point
of panda conservation in China.
It was thrust
into the spotlight when in 2008,
a devastating earthquake
ripped through the panda
heartlands, 190 miles away.
Many of the pandas here
are evacuees
from that disaster.
In charge is director
Zhang Ho Min,
affectionately known as Papa Panda.
He has dedicated
the last 30 years of his life
to saving the panda
from extinction.
The ultimate aim
is to release pandas
back into the wild.
Zhang and his team
first have to build
a large and viable
breeding group in captivity.
Breeding pandas
is extremely difficult.
Urine tests have shown
that that time has arrived
for nine-year-old Xhui-Xiu.
A young male called Yung Yung
has been chosen
as her best genetic match.
It's vital to let
pandas communicate
with each other prior to mating.
It's all about smell.
Male pandas send signals
by rubbing their scent
into their ears.
These act like beacons,
spreading messages
on the mountain air.
Xhui-Xiu's acute sense of smell
tells her that
there's a male nearby
who's ready to mate.
Although Yung Yung
is enthusiastic,
Xhui-Xiu is not so sure.
But time is precious,
so, Lu Lu, a far more
experienced male,
is now introduced to Xhui-Xiu.
Zhang and his team have waited
patiently for this moment.
Like people, pandas can be particular
about their mate.
Today, the wait has paid off.
The chances are good
that Xhui-Xiu will conceive
from the mating,
but to improve the odds,
the veterinary team will also
artificially inseminate her.
Xhui-Xui is sedated
for the procedure.
It's four months
since the mating session
and only now is it possible
to discover whether
Xhui-Xiu is pregnant.
The procedures and equipment
could be frightening,
but the keepers treat the pandas
with kindness and gentle words.
At this stage, a baby panda
would be just one-thousandth
the size of its mother.
Ultrasound picks out what
looks like a tiny fetus.
More scans over the following days
confirm the team's hunch,
and Xhui-Xiu is moved
to the maternity wing.
The expectant mothers
are monitored 24 hours a day.
It's hard to predict when a panda
is going to give birth.
It can happen any time
from three to six months
after conception.
They seem to favor
the warmest days in August,
which in the wild, is when
the bamboo is at its richest.
Xhui-Xiu is off her food
and clearly uncomfortable.
Merry reaches out
to Director Zhang,
who decides to call in
the team to observe.
Finally, the tiny baby
begins to show.
The cub weighs just three ounces.
Her mother 800 times that much.
But Little Xhui-Xiu
isn't the only new arrival.
Her mother gave birth to twins.
In the wild, it's not uncommon
for pandas to give birth to twins,
but the mother generally favors
the stronger of the two.
The other rarely survives.
But here at the Panda Center,
every newborn is treated
with equal care.
In the incubator room,
Little Xhui-Xiu's twin
will be under
round-the-clock supervision.
Her body temperature is kept
at a constant 104 degrees,
just' as it would be if she were
still in her mother's arms.
The survival rate is now
an impressive 95 percent,
but it wasn't always so.
In the early days, two-thirds
of all incubated cubs died
within the first 80 days.
Zhang and his team were
desperate to understand why.
Mother had the answers.
Keepers noticed that
every two hours,
she would gently massage her
baby's stomach with her tongue.
When they copied her actions,
they made a breakthrough.
Gently patting the stomach
helps the tiny panda to poo
when its own muscles
aren't strong enough.
It was a key discovery
that helped
the vulnerable cubs survive.
Still, it was important
that each cub had time
with its mother.
So the team decided
to keep swapping the twins.
But you can't just ask a panda
to hand over its baby.
This is highly dangerous.
The mother is capable of killing
a grown man with a single blow.
The first cub
is successfully removed.
And its twin takes its place,
with mother back in charge.
The keepers will continue
to swap the twins every two days
until they are six months old.
Little Xhui-Xiu
is only four weeks old
but already she has
her black and whites.
She's still blind and vulnerable,
but nature has equipped her
with a voice loud enough
to summon her mother
through dense forest.
Because mom eats only bamboo,
which is low in nutrients,
she can't produce much milk.
But what little she does produce
is full of antibodies
to keep her cub healthy.
The keepers make sure
mother's milk is shared equally
between the twins, who both
need milk every three hours.
At seven months,
her older cousins and siblings
each weigh around 40 pounds,
with sharp teeth and claws.
They will remain here
or travel overseas as VIPs.
They have been close to humans
their whole lives
and are thriving in captivity.
These youngsters will spend
the next 12 months
playing together
in the panda kindergarten.
Merry is like their elder sister.
She knows the personality
of each and every one.
Just like people,
pandas can be very different.
Some are shy and retiring...
while others are bold
and adventurous.
Each new generation born here
is a cause for celebration.
But for Zhang,
saving the panda from extinction
is just the beginning.
Zhang's dream of restoring
pandas to the wild
presents him with
the biggest challenge of all.
These captive-bred pandas,
nurtured by humans,
are not equipped with
the natural instincts needed
to survive in the mountains.
It was clear to Zhang
that to successfully
return pandas to the wild
would require a different approach.
He came up with a new program
here at the Wolong Panda Base,
one of the last places on Earth
where wild pandas still roam free.
Its headquarters
were virtually destroyed
in the earthquake of 2008.
Though largely derelict,
some of the enclosures still remain.
Merry will be working
alongside Zhang.
But this isn't her first time
at the panda base.
She was a keeper here
when the earthquake struck,
and this return brings back
terrible memories.
The mountains above the center
rained down tons
of rock and earth.
Boulders crashed into everything.
Merry recalls running
to the end of the bridge
to rescue pandas
as it swayed back and forth
from the sheer power
of the massive quake.
Bad as it was, they haven't
given up on this place.
Before the quake, they shared
a wonderful life here.
Now, for Merry,
Zhang, and the team,
this is a new beginning...
an opportunity
to try new methods
in their quest to return pandas
to their real home in the wild.
For this project,
parts of the base have been
brought back to life
and are home to a revolutionary
process called "wild training."
Now, the humans
must take a step back.
A panda that's reliant on humans
will never be able
to cope in the wild.
They will spend the first
two years of their lives
here in this two-acre
enclosure, with their mothers,
exposed to nature
and the elements.
It's the females that are
the fewest generations
removed from the wild
that are selected for the task.
They have the natural instincts
needed to survive.
Their job is to pass their
knowledge on to their young.
Pandas eat up to 80 pounds
of bamboo every day,
and the bamboo growing
in these small enclosures
could never sustain
that kind of appetite.
Humans have to intervene,
so they've come up
with a novel approach.
It's not enough
to look the part.
They have to smell
the part, too.
Scented with panda poo and pee,
these outfits help
to mask human odors.
Today, everyone's focus
is on a 21-month-old male
called Tao-Tao.
In the lower enclosure,
his mother has taught him
the basic survival skills.
Tao-Tao is the first panda
in this experimental project
to be selected for the crucial
next stage of wild training,
which takes place deeper
in the panda heartland.
But first, the keepers
have to capture him.
He's too young
to be a threat to humans,
but his mother's
taught him well,
and catching him
isn't going to be easy.
The journey to the new enclosure
will bring Tao-Tao up into
the same forest environment
as his wild cousins.
These mountainsides are too
steep to be farmed or logged,
so they have
survived untouched...
A perfect panda habitat.
A mile straight up the mountain,
these upper enclosures are
as close to real wilderness
as Tao Tao will get
before he's finally
released into the wild.
Tao-Tao's mother
isn't far behind.
She will not be going with
Tao-Tao when he's released,
so she can be with handlers
not wearing panda suits.
Left to fend for themselves,
they will need to find bamboo
and water naturally,
in their new habitat.
One of the reasons giant pandas
are nearly extinct
is because, for centuries,
humans have
cut down their forests
and turned them into farms.
If Zhang wants to return
pandas to the wild,
then he has to make sure
there is some wilderness
for them to live in.
As tragic as it was,
the earthquake that
devastated this region may,
ironically, have helped
the panda's plight.
Many families
are now willing to leave
if the government helps find
them housing in safer areas.
To give the panda a home here
in the Wor-Long Valley,
China replants thousand
of acres of forest each year.
It's one of the world's
largest environmental projects.
It's Zhang's job
to encourage everyone
to share the land with pandas.
Zhang spends
as much time as he can
with people who live
in the panda wilderness areas.
How children treat the panda
and its environment
will determine the fate
of the species.
Zhang hopes that this kind
of up-close experience
will instill a real love
and respect for the panda.
Tao-Tao and his mother
have been living undisturbed
for five months
in their mountain enclosure.
But he must pass one final test.
A young panda is vulnerable
to the jackals,
wolves, and leopards
that hunt these hillsides.
Like most animals,
pandas are born with
a natural fear of predators.
But captive pandas often
don't recognize danger
until it's too late.
A fact Zhang knows only too well.
In 2006, Zhang and his team
chose a five-year-old male,
Xiang Xiang,
to be the first ever
captive-bred panda
to return to the wild.
They spent over three years
preparing him...
years of training,
hoping, and worrying.
Just one year
into his freedom, tragedy struck.
Researchers found
Xiang Xiang's lifeless body
lying in the snow.
He showed signs of
having been attacked
by predators
or other wild pandas.
For Zhang it was very painful,
like losing his own son.
Tao-Tao has spent months
learning how to survive,
but it has all been in
a safe fenced environment.
Today, the keepers' mission
is to teach him how to survive
in a world filled with leopards
and other predators.
They use fresh droppings
and urine from a zoo leopard
to give their dummy
the authentic smell.
Using radio telemetry,
one of the team tries
to locate Tao-Tao's mother.
Tao-Tao may be nearby.
The keepers have brought
a recording of a leopard.
The experiment is a success.
It's now time for him to make
his historic journey into the wild.
Tao-Tao is sedated
for a final health check.
He is about to become
the most famous panda in China.
He gets a complete medical exam
to confirm he's fit
for his big adventure.
His destination
is the Li Tzu Ping Reserve,
50,000 acres
of pristine bamboo forest.
The panda population here
is dangerously low.
It's estimated that as few
as 13 pandas survive here.
The hope is that Tao-Tao,
strong and healthy,
will find a female panda
and introduce a new bloodline.
He could be
the last chance of survival
for this tiny population.
Dignitaries and politicians
have come from all across China
to participate in his release.
Merry and her friends have to settle
for watching the event live on TV.
They have mixed emotions
watching Tao-Tao set free.
While releasing him
is vitally important,
Merry worries for his safety.
All his life, she has taken care of
and protected him.
It's hard to let go.
The moment is emotional
for Zhang, as well.
Though sad to see him go,
he knows he has
to take this step.
This is the culmination
of years of work...
hope, wrapped up
in one tiny panda.
A year since the release,
Zhang hasn't seen Tao-Tao.
No one has.
But his GPS collar shows
he is alive and well,
roaming across the mountains.
Perhaps he has met other pandas.
And maybe he will father
a baby of his own...
one who will roam in the wild...
who will truly be free...
finally home.