Sep 092010
Authors: Kari Pills

Sarah Bexell has a job that many don’t know exists.

Since 1999 she has worked in China in researching human behavior and biodiversity in breeding, socializing and reintroducing several endangered giant pandas into their natural habitat.

“I literally saw stars when they called me (and selected me for the program),” said Bexell, director of Conservation Education at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Province, China.

After getting to know Bexell through Human Dimensions of Wildlife two years ago, the department held a seminar for her Thursday in Johnson Theatre in Johnson Hall. More than 200 people attended.

Bexell spoke about the history and future of giant panda conservation and people’s role in the natural world.

“Our department does a lot of research and teaching around balancing human development with natural resources and wildlife conflict,” said Esther Duke, coordinator of special projects for Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department at CSU.

“I’ve always loved animals,” Bexell said, “I always rescued all the birds and squirrels, and bunnies as a child.”

For her undergraduate degree, Bexell attended a small liberal arts school in Illinois and was pre-vet but switched to a biology degree with a minor in environmental sciences.

“I watched my first surgery and passed out, so I decided to switch,” she said, laughing.

Before beginning her career in the study of pandas, she studied primates for many years, but has now been working with pandas for 11 years.

“My favorite thing is to work with kids and see the light go on and show them that we can form bonds. We need to foster human and animal bonds,” Bexell said.

Bexell is also tied to Colorado because she a research scholar in the Institute for Human-Animal Connections at the University of Denver.

“I would love to have a dual life in China and in Colorado,” Bexell said.

In addition to Bexell’s many contributions to giant panda research, she helps educate surrounding communities where the pandas live so people can live along side them and benefit from them in ways including ecotourism.

“There are lots of lessons to be learned,” Duke said.

In her presentation, she discussed the pandas’ fragile status, saying these pandas only exist in six different mountain ranges in China as well as three providences.

“Captive breeding has been very successful and the panda population is stabilized within this,” Bexell said.

In addition, the Chinese government has allowed more panda reserves to help increase and stabilize the population.

This presentation was an opportunity that doesn’t come around often, Duke said.

“For a number of years we had an international colloquium. There are not as much funds though,” she said. “We are hoping to have a couple others, but this is a very special event,” she said.

Staff writer Kari Pills can be reached at

For more information on internships, contact CSU’s Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department or Dr. Sarah Bexell at

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