Google Frecking: The Week In Pandas

Apr 20, 2014
Originally published on April 29, 2014 7:30 am

What a week it's been for giant pandas. We know because for the past seven days, we have been Google Frecking for pandas.

Google Frecking is an info-gathering game we devised — at the suggestion of our creative editor — for drilling a little deeper into a subject that intrigues us. In this case: pandas.

Last weekend we set up a Google Alert for pandas. We directed Google to send us news about pandas "when it happens" and we asked for "all results."

We call it frecking because it's a hunt-and-peck extraction process — a little like fracking — that helps us find untapped resources for stories. Plus we like this line from a James Russell Lowell poem about a cathedral: Painted windows, frecking gloom with glow.

Google Frecking teaches us that pandas can be:

1) Sad: On Orange Jasmine Purple Yam we read the story of Sijia — a giant panda living in a Yunnan wildlife park — who was distraught and stopped eating when her panda pal Meiqian was shipped away. Zookeepers set up a monitor that shows videos of Sijia and Meiqian playing together in happier times.

2) Inspirational: Through Google Frecking, we stumble on the Hungry Panda Club, a New York City group that shares interests in food and networking. Co-founder Alicia Dai of IAC / InterActive tells NPR: "Apart from a majority of our constituents being Asian, the name had a nice ring to it and pandas are just lovable, innocuous creatures."

3) Sweet Of Tooth: Researchers recently reported that pandas — whose diet consists mostly of bamboo — have a "sweet receptor" in their DNA, similar to humans. This suggests that ancestral pandas were able to eat fruits before they were shooed away from the lowlands to the mountains by human expansion. Do pandas in captivity come to prefer sugary foods to bamboo? NPR asked lead researcher Danielle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Our data would suggest that liking for sweet food is a function of inborn biology and not the effects of captivity," she said. "Pandas in the wild would immediately accept sweet foods if they were available."

4) Symbolic: In the aftershocks of Flight 370's disappearance on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relations between Malaysia and China have been frayed. Tensions could affect the delivery of a panda to Kuala Lumpur scheduled for May 31, an important diplomatic anniversary for the two countries. "Delays beyond this date would make the event less meaningful," reports Sin Chew Daily, a large Chinese-language newspaper in Malaysia.

5) Artsy: People put pandas on everything. Via Google Frecking we find pandas on fingernails; in a David Mamet play; in a bronze sculpture and adorning a panda-themed hotel.

6) Bashful: At the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, panda couple Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been having trouble making a baby panda. So Tian Tian was artificially inseminated. Apparently, we won't know if the procedure worked until Tian Tian has a cub — or not.

7) Cute, Cute, Cute: Pinterest people post panda pictures aplenty. Particularly Panda Party; Panda Nursery and <3 <3 Pandas.

The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

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