Panda poop paper yields profits for Thai keepers
CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- There's the Panda Express fast-food chain. Jing Jing, a mascot for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The forthcoming animated movie, Kung Fu Panda. Even a Mexican rock band named after the cuddly bear.
Not to be outdone, Thailand has come up with yet another, seemingly unlikely way to capitalize on this globally loved, bamboo-munching animal -- panda poop.
When keepers of the country's panda couple -- Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui -- got tired of disposing the 25 kilograms of feces daily produced by the duo, Prasertsak Buntragulpoontawee came up with the idea of turning it all into notebooks, fans, bookmarks and key chains.
"At first the Chinese were very skeptical," says the head of Chiang Mai Zoo's panda unit, referring to the proprietary attitude China takes toward its iconic animal.
But the multicolored paper products have proved hot selling-items at the zoo, with the 300,000 baht (US$8,200) earned to date helping balance the accounts of panda keeping.
The Thai government pays US$250,000 a year to China's Wulong Panda Research Institute to rent the pandas, who, depending on the weather, reside in either a US$1 million air-conditioned cage or an extensive, fan-cooled outdoor enclosure ringed by a mini-replica of China's Great Wall.
Panda poop paper production involves a daylong process of cleaning the feces, boiling it in a soda solution, bleaching it with chlorine and drying it under the sun. Experimentation continues on how to reduce the chemicals now used.
Prasertsak says he was inspired by sa paper, or mulberry leaf paper, a traditional, local product which has proved a highly popular gift item in recent years.
"We tried selling it on markets outside but so far with not so much success," he says. "But in the zoo, when people see real pandas and then their product they're excited and buy." (AP)
November 23, 2006