Necessities for bears: Littleton resident's group dedicated to helping endangered pandas

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By AJ Vicens

The 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck China on May 12 was devastating not only to people and property, but also to an endangered species that has captured the imagination of Littleton resident Suzanne Braden.

And Braden, along with her nonprofit organization Pandas International, continues to help.

In early June, Braden visited the Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in western China’s Sichuan Province, home to the last remaining wild pandas.

She said one of the main roads into the reserve was destroyed by the quake, and several panda enclosures were damaged. A wall had collapsed and killed a female panda. And, after the earthquake, China soon entered its monsoon season, and rockslides and mudslides made a bad situation worse.

But Littleton-based Pandas International was there to help.

"We are still a small organization in the world of nonprofits," Braden said from her basement office, which sports panda posters, pictures and small panda figurines.

"The e-mail that hit me said, ‘We need medicine to stop the blood,’ " she said. "We sent 6,000 pounds of medicine within three days. Most of it was intended for the pandas, but some was for the staff and the locals. The pandas need the staff, and the staff needs the locals. We sort of had to broaden our mission."

Braden’s nonprofit has grown from an idea and "zero dollars" to a small but effective organization with three part-time employees and a worldwide reach.

Braden said Pandas International primarily supports the China Reserve and Conservation Center, a breeding and research facility in the Wolong Nature Reserve.

The organization doesn't just send money to China, she said. Items such as milk formula and incubators — along with expensive industrial laboratory freezers for panda semen — are purchased by Pandas International and shipped to the reserve.

"My job is not glamorous," Braden said with a smile. "It's basically administration and whining and begging."

Braden said she recently negotiated the purchase of a blood-chemistry analyzer for about $26,000. That purchase left the small nonprofit "nearly broke," but donations increased after the earthquake.

"Donations spiked, but so did demand," Braden said.

There was so much need after the earthquake that Pandas International simply spent money and hoped donations would keep pace.

Braden said administrative costs and fund-raising efforts eat up 23 percent of donations to Pandas International. On the website, the nonprofit sells merchandise and gives ideas for how people can raise money.

"People can have panda parties; some kids have done lemonade stands; adults can do wine and cheese parties; people could go see 'Kung Fu Panda' and then have a fund-raising party," Braden said.

Braden said that even though the Chinese government has more than a billion people to worry about and many problems, it is supportive of pandas, which are seen as a national treasure.

"There were two cubs born July 6 to a bear named Guo Guo," Braden said. "It's really amazing."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

Visit Pandas International at www.pandasinternational.org for ways to get involved. Here are some panda statistics:

• 1,600: Number of pandas estimated in the wild (some 200 live in captivity)

• 165 to 353 pounds: adult weight (a newborn weighs 4 to 8 ounces at birth)

• An adult panda stands 4 to 5 feet tall

• 25 to 40 pounds: amount of bamboo a panda eats per day

• Pandas live for 18 to 20 years in the wild, and 30 to 35 years in captivity