For philanthropist Charlie Annenberg Weingarten and his organization Explore.org, cute videos of baby sloths or kid goats on a trampoline do more than make us feel good. They can help save the planet.
The website of the Santa Monica-based organization features a series of live webcams and short films about endangered animals, including polar bears, beluga whales and reef fish. It has just launched its newest webcam initiative, the panda-cam, as an effort to familiarize the world with these critically endangered creatures and inspire efforts to rebuild their destroyed habitat.
Two panda toddlers are the stars of the new camera, which is best viewed after 4:30 p.m. PST. They play together, eat, and move around their habitat. Pandas are seriously endangered, with only about 1,300 in existence.
“It’s really part of a bigger initiative,” said Weingarten, reached by phone while traveling in Aspen, Colo. “I call it Pearls of the Planet. [It] is really based upon my belief that, by serving the natural world, we’ll fall in love with it. My hope is that by being able to observe these sacred creatures, you’ll learn about their habitat, you’ll be able to ask questions, and you’ll be able to become educated.”
The newest cam project began in 2008, when Weingarten visited the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, which was then in Wolong. Shortly after his visit, a massive 8.0 earthquake hit the Sichuan region and destroyed that research center and a whole network of panda preserves in the area, killing a couple of the pandas. When Weingarten reestablished contact with the scientists, they agreed to allow the cameras to be installed as a way to increase international understanding.
The cameras do get a fair amount of traffic. Explore.org says visitors spent a quarter-million hours on the polar bear camera during the first three weeks it was up.
“I call it panda diplomacy,” Weingarten said. “I’m trying to teach people on the environment but take a stance that’s not built on doom and gloom, but more on emotional connection.”