And when we do, can we finally ask ourselves, Why are we so obsessed with the panda? Maybe we should ask ourselves some hard questions:
So wait, what happened yesterday?
Whoa crazy. Really? Has this ever happened with other animals before?
Sorta. I mean, we're used to "celebrities" who air their fertility problems on the Web, in glossy magazines, and on reality television. In the animal kingdom, some people get really excited when champion horses mate (especially since there's a ton of money on the line there), but it's hard for us to remember the last time there was a non-human TMI moment of this scale.
So why do we do this?
Do you want the scientific reason?
Well, it's this thing, called charismatic megafaun...
Hold on, what?
Charismatic megafauna. We talked with some PhD students at UC Davis's Graduate School of Ecology, and that's a term that applies to big animals with big, invested human followings. Think whales, sharks, cheetahs, penguins ... you know, basically any cute, adorable, majestic animal. And being in a movie doesn't hurt.
You got it. The only thing is, this might be a case where charismatic megafauna gets a little bit too charismatic.
Well, it helps that the panda is adorable and has been the subject of many YouTube views and whatnot. But take this case from doctoral student Sheila Madrak at UC Davis who studies sea turtles and turn it up a few notches. "I call it the Finding Nemo phenomenon," says Madrak. "The characters Crush and Squirt -- people got really enthused about marine turtle research after Finding Nemo, because they were really popular characters with the movie. "
Well, that motivates people to get involved and gets people up and moving. Like Madrak told us, "Crush and Squirt made sea turtles seem fun and happy, and changed public perception and visibility of sea turtles. People got more involved in the preservation of these animals." Madrak told us she's seen the rise of sea turtle memorabilia and stickers promoting their preservation ever since the movie came out.
So, wait. How does this get back to pandas?
Well, you could say that the reason we had the bizarre live-tweeting of Mei Xiang's artificial insemination was just an amplified extension of this Finding Nemo/charismatic megafauna phenomenon with the popularity of Kung Fu Panda. Perhaps we're all so interested in saving the panda (and its cuteness), we ignore its limitations like its low birth rate and normal characteristics.
We've also been known to ship them off for not being cute enough. Remember Butterstick whose internet fame and adorableness burned bright before turning ferocious? We shipped him back to China after a mere four years . And while Mei Xiang's artificial insemination is just the most recent example of our will to make pandas survive, we've also created things like panda porn and panda "sexercises" to help get them into and sustain the mood.