Ultimate Pandas

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Everyone loves pandas, right? In fact, these lovable bears are the most recognizable icons worldwide for endangered species, even while remaining endangered themselves. But recently, China has made an effort to protect the giant pandas' native habitat and to establish several in situ captive breeding programs to bolster the dwindling numbers of wild giant pandas, as revealed in a charming new video, Ultimate Pandas, by nature photographer, Gerry Ellis.

This color DVD is an interesting and up-close glimpse into the lives of several different age groups of panda cubs that are hand-reared at the WoLong Nature Reserve in the mountainous Shichuan region of China. The film follows a day in the lives of panda cub, Xiao Lei Lei, and her human keepers and panda friends. It especially focuses on the younger cubs as they eat, climb, and roll around with each other, and the camera itself often ends up as the target of panda curiosity. The close proximity of the pandas to the camera gives you the feeling that you can reach out and actually touch their fur or their noses and provides interesting close looks at their teeth, faces and their remarkable feet.

bundled>The footage in this lively 93-minute DVD was shot on location during a four-year time period. The DVD includes 65 minutes of panda cub footage, five panda music videos by Juri Panda Jones (yes, that's her real name!) in Dolby Surround with sing-along subtitles that you can turn on or off, and 19 original panda paintings by Laurie Smith that are title screens that precede each part. Additionally, the DVD comes bundled with a truly adorable 10-inch plush toy that will delight panda fans and kids of all ages (plush toy not available through Amazon).

This DVD provides the viewer with four soundtrack choices: unscripted conversations between the photographer and either a group of younger children, older children or adults, and a narration-free version. These different soundtracks were recorded while the film was being screened by small audiences, so they are charming, spontaneous and surprisingly informative. I really enjoyed hearing the comments and the laughter of the different audiences inspired by the panda cub antics. My companion parrots especially enjoyed the narration-free panda experience since the endemic birdsongs and other nature sounds were reproduced with such high fidelity. Even though I am not particularly interested in sing-alongs, I was fascinated by "Panda Bear Hug," which is a sort of lullaby that features a female panda cuddling her tiny newborn baby. One thing I learned from watching the footage that accompanies this lullaby is that baby pandas have really long tails, and these tails remain the same length as the panda grows, so it gives the illusion that the tail is becoming progressively smaller when instead, it is the panda who is growing larger.

A casual observer might accidentally dismiss this DVD as mere fluff or as "cute overload", but it is more educational and valuable than that. This entertaining DVD provides a fair amount of basic information about panda biology while giving the viewer an appreciation for panda behavior by allowing us to simply watch them .. being pandas. These panda cubs are so playful and curious and roly-poly, it's hard to resist their charms, and the fact that they are running around in a wildlife preserve in the beautiful mountains of southwestern China where they are endemic makes this footage even more compelling. But the best part is knowing that 50% of the cost of each DVD is being donated directly to the WoLong Nature Preserve that was recently flattened by the earthquake in China. I highly recommend this delightful and informative DVD to families, as gifts for kids of all ages, as a popular addition to local public libraries' DVD collections and for panda lovers everywhere.

Gerry Ellis is an award-winning nature and wildlife photographer, author of dozens of books, and founder of the nonprofit organization, GLOBIO, which focuses on engaging children in cross-cultural communication and understanding about international pressures on worldwide biodiversity.

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