The Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base has come up with a dung-for-profit scheme that turns droppings from the endangered species into odor-free souvenirs ranging from bookmarks to Olympic-themed statues of the animals, state media and base officials said Monday.
The facility in the southwestern province of Sichuan houses about 40 bamboo-fed pandas who produce less than a ton of excrement a day.
"We used to spend at least $770 a month to get rid of the droppings but now they can be lucrative," Jing Shimin, assistant to the base director, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
The products will be made at a local handicraft company mostly from undigested bamboo culled from the panda waste through a special process, Xinhua said.
An official who answered the phone at the Chengdu facility said the dung is "carefully selected, smashed, dried and sterilized at 572 degrees Fahrenheit." He refused to give his name but said the products will be of all colors because they will be dyed.
"They don’t smell too bad because 70% of the dung is just remains of the bamboo that the pandas are unable to digest," Jing said. While no price has been set, he said the most expensive souvenirs will contain a panda hair — collected from the wild — in each package.
The 2008 Olympic statues will feature "athletic pandas performing various Olympic sports," Xinhua said.
In March, base officials said they were looking into making high-quality paper from the fiber-rich panda excrement, inspired by a trip to Thailand, where they found paper made from elephant dung.
The Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand already sells multicolored paper made from waste produced by its two resident pandas. Making paper there involves a day-long process of cleaning the feces, boiling it in a soda solution, bleaching it with chlorine and drying it under the sun.
The panda is one of the world’s rarest and most beloved animals, with about 1,590 living in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan and the western province of Shaanxi. Another 180 have been bred in captivity.