A giant panda research base in southwest China's Sichuan Province has come up with a novel way to profit from panda dung - craft souvenirs out of it.
Researchers at the Chengdu center have sculpted photo frames, bookmarks, fans and panda statues out of the 300 tons of droppings produced by 60 giant pandas each year.
Jing Shimin, assistant to the director of the base, proudly declared that the souvenirs would be relatively odour-free. "They don't smell too bad because 70 percent of the dung is just remains of the bamboo that the pandas are unable to digest."
"We used to spend at least 6,000 yuan (770 U.S. dollars) a month to get rid of the droppings but now they can prove lucrative as half of them will be sold as souvenirs," he said.
According to Jing, the panda dung is carefully selected then smashed, dried and sterilized at a temperature of 300 degrees Celsius to provide clean raw material for the manufacturers. "Craftsmen then draw or sculpt the cuddly bears by hand for tourists to take home," Jing described lovingly.
Jing said the base was working with a local handicraft company to produce the souvenirs, but their prices have not been set. "The base will work out reasonable prices soon," he said.
The most expensive of the souvenirs will contain a panda hair in each package, he said. When pressed on this point, he said, "No, of course we don't pull hair from the bears - it is collected from the wild."
Not wishing to miss out on Olympic-inspired profits, the base is currently working on moulding the poop into statues of athletic pandas performing various Olympic sports to sell as "special gifts designed for the 2008 Olympic Games".
The Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand already sells multicolored paper made from the excrement of its two resident pandas. Making the paper involves a day-long process of cleaning the faeces, boiling it in a soda solution, bleaching it with chlorine and drying it under the sun, according to the zoo.