Colorado group gifts pandas with bamboo

DENVER – A Colorado-based group working to ensure the long-term survival of giant pandas is getting a financial boost.

Littleton-based Pandas International says the catastrophic earthquake in western China in 2008, along with mudslides and flooding since then, have affected bamboo stands that are the bulk of pandas’ diet. The group is trying to plant more bamboo.

Last weekend explore.org, which is part of the philanthropic Annenberg Foundation, said it is teaming with both Pandas International and the China Conservation Research Center for the Giant Panda to help. Explore.org says that for each person who “likes” or shares its new Web feed of the giant panda Tai Shan, who was born at the National Zoo in Washington but now lives in China, it will donate $1 to plant a bamboo shoot, up to $500,000.

Explore.org says live footage is shown from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. Pacific time. Highlights are rebroadcast the rest of the day.

Pandas International co-founder Suzanne Braden remembers being enchanted with giant pandas after visiting a preserve in China in 1999. “I have to tell you: After my wedding day, this was the most magical day of my life,” she said of her visit.

Her group supplements what the Chinese government is doing to help the giant panda population. Pandas International estimates there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas left.

Charlie Annenberg Weingarten of explore.org said his group is tying its $500,000 challenge grant to “likes” of the Tai Shan Web feed, rather than asking for matching donations from Web visitors, so that people make an emotional investment in pandas. Explore.org says it champions selfless acts and hopes to inspire lifelong learning.

“With the live cams, it’s really a simple premise, to get people to fall in love with the world again by observing it,” Weingarten said.

It’s unclear how long it will take the Tai Shan feed to reach 500,000 likes and shares. Weingarten also is behind the philanthropic effort Dog Bless You, which has helped pair service dogs with war veterans. Dog Bless You’s Facebook page indicates it has collected about 383,000 likes in two years.