CHENGDU, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Decked out in cartoon pandas from his T-shirt to his socks, William Burke has flown all the way to southwest China from Hawaii with his wife, Karom Burke, to see their adopted pandas.
At the first Chinese International Panda Culture Communication Activity, which ended Sunday in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, more than 60 panda "parents" from around the world had a chance to visit the bears they have sponsored through donations.
"I was so surprised that a giant panda cub could be as small as a stick of butter when I first saw Tai Shan at the National Zoo in Washington D.C in 2005," said Karom.
"Karom and I then decided to adopt a panda. Look, this one on my T-shirt is our first daughter, Bai Xue," said William.
Since 2007, William and Karom have sponsored three pandas: Bai Xue, Bai Xue's son Jin Ke, and Bai Xue's granddaughter Lin Ping.
The bears have become part of their family.
"When Bai Xue died last year, we were so sad that we'd lost a family member," said Karom.
"But there are happy moments too," added William. "We were so excited when pandas were upgraded from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List last month. My cousin sent me this watch with a panda cartoon on it to celebrate."
Suzanne Braden, from the United States, has adopted four pandas. In 1999, she adopted her first panda and named it after her late father, Harvey.
"On our way back home from seeing pandas in China, I thought we must do something to protect the cute species," said Suzanne. She and her friend Diane Rees co-founded Pandas International in 2000. The NGO is exclusively devoted to protecting pandas.
Over the past 16 years, Pandas International has provided incubators, formula, and toys for pandas in Sichuan, bringing advanced medical equipment and restoring bamboo at Sichuan's panda bases following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.
"Everyone should work harder than ever to protect pandas," said Suzanne. "And I'm gonna protect pandas until the day I die."
So far, more than 5,000 people from over 20 countries have participated in Pandas International activities.
With the help of Pandas International, Japan Panda Protection Institute and other organizations, 731 individual sponsors and businesses have been matched with pandas over the past four years, according to China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP).
People and enterprises from 20 countries, including China, the United States, Japan, the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Thailand and Brazil, have adopted pandas.
"Our (outreach activities) have served as a platform for panda adopters to share their stories and inspire more to join our efforts to protect the panda," said Zhang Haiqing, CCRCGP's deputy director.
In addition to outreach and education, the center has also established cooperation programs for scientific research with 12 zoos in 10 countries, including the Republic of Korea, Belgium and Austria, so foreign panda lovers can see the rare animals in their home countries.
Since 1996, when the center first sent pandas Bai Yun and Shi Shi to the United States for a 12-year breeding program, a total of 26 pandas have traveled abroad, resulting in 17 cubs.
Two pandas, Yuan Xin and Hua Ni, flew to the Everland Theme Park in Seoul this March, launching a cooperative breeding program between China and the Republic of Korea.
At the Paradise Park in Belgium, the panda Hao Hao gave birth to a male cub, Tian Bao, this June -- the first panda born in Belgium.