It was back-to-school for the fuzziest, cuddliest, most adorable creatures on earth this past weekend.

On Oct. 24, 2015, baby giant pandas were presented to the public as part of Chengdu Research Base's opening ceremonies for "panda kindergarten" this year in China.

And yes, it was as cute as it sounds.


ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Unfortunately, there weren't any scrapbook-worthy pics of the cubs putting on backpacks and hopping on school buses (can you imagine, though?). That's because the research base uses the term "kindergarten" a little loosely — it's not so much a school as it is the area where the smallest fur-balls are cared for, play with their peers, and just generally act too-cute to handle.

This year's ceremony was particularly awesome because 2015 has been downright phenomenal for giant pandas.

In front of excited onlookers, 13 of the 15 giant panda cubs born at the center this year strutted their stuff for the camera (or, you know, just rolled around on the table being delightful). That number may not seem significant, but it marks a very successful breeding year for the species.

ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Because females only ovulate for a very short time once a year, reproduction rates can be painfully stagnant for giant pandas. As the Smithsonian's National Zoo points out, "the giant pandas' naturally slow breeding rate prevents a population from recovering quickly from illegal hunting, habitat loss, and other human-related causes of mortality."

So all things considered, 15 makes for a pretty stellar year.

Remarkably, there were six — six! — sets of twins in the mix this year, too. And two of them were named image ambassadors by the United Nations Development Program, which helped organize the event to bring awareness to the species' fragility around the world.

Overall, things are looking up for these fuzz-balls.

Giant pandas are endangered, with only about 1,864 alive in the wild in 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund. That figure, however, is fairly encouraging — it's up from around 1,000 in the 1970s. In the past decade alone, wild giant panda numbers have ticked up 17%.

Here's some recent photographic evidence of a bump in the captive population too (and not at all an excuse to look at more baby pandas being baby pandas...):

Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Make no mistake, though — we can't get complacent when it comes to protecting these creatures.

Like I mentioned, giant pandas are endangered, which means they're still facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. It's important that their populations continue to grow (and not just because they're cute) — pandas play a vital role in keeping China's bamboo forests alive and thriving, which, in turn, affects many other species.

Here's to hoping each year brings an even bigger incoming class of panda kindergarteners (and always making sure our cameras are out and ready for the first day of school).

Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

Keep Reading Show less

Matthew McConaughey in 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey made a heartfelt plea for Americans to “do better” on Tuesday after a gunman murdered 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

Uvalde is a small town of about 16,000 residents approximately 85 miles west of San Antonio. The actor grew up in Uvalde until he was 11 years old when his family moved to Longview, 430 miles away.

The suspected murderer, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was killed by law enforcement at the scene of the crime. Before the rampage, Ramos allegedly shot his grandmother after a disagreement.

“As you all are aware there was another mass shooting today, this time in my home town of Uvalde, Texas,” McConaughey wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “Once again, we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.”

Keep Reading Show less
Joy

Meet Eva, the hero dog who risked her life saving her owner from a mountain lion

Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva when a mountain lion suddenly appeared.

Photo by Didssph on Unsplash

A sweet face and fierce loyalty: Belgian Malinois defends owner.

The Belgian Malinois is a special breed of dog. It's highly intelligent, extremely athletic and needs a ton of interaction. While these attributes make the Belgian Malinois the perfect dog for police and military work, they can be a bit of a handful as a typical pet.

As Belgian Malinois owner Erin Wilson jokingly told NPR, they’re basically "a German shepherd on steroids or crack or cocaine.”

It was her Malinois Eva’s natural drive, however, that ended up saving Wilson’s life.

According to a news release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva slightly ahead of her when a mountain lion suddenly appeared and swiped Wilson across the left shoulder. She quickly yelled Eva’s name and the dog’s instincts kicked in immediately. Eva rushed in to defend her owner.

It wasn’t long, though, before the mountain lion won the upper hand, much to Wilson’s horror.

She told TODAY, “They fought for a couple seconds, and then I heard her start crying. That’s when the cat latched on to her skull.”

Keep Reading Show less