100 days after birth, San Diego panda gets name

Updated 16 November 2012
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100 days after birth, San Diego panda gets name

SAN DIEGO: There is a new little gift at the San Diego Zoo that’s going to get very big.
The zoo’s youngest giant panda was officially named Xiao Liwu, Chinese for “little gift,” at a ceremony Tuesday. He is on the small side, but is strong and cooperative, said Dr. Ron Swaisgood, a member of the zoo’s panda team.
The cub was born on July 29 and was named 100 days after its birth, according to Chinese zoo tradition. Officials said the cub weighs 9.2 pounds (4 kilograms) and stretches more than 23 inches (58 centimeters) long from nose to tail.
Zoo officials got 7,000 suggested names, chose their top six and put them up for a vote. More than 35,000 zoo visitors voted on names that meant Little Gift, Miracle, Raindrop, Big Ocean or Big Sea, Brave Son and Water Dragon.
Xiao Liwu’s mother is Bai Yun which means White Cloud and father Gao Gao, which means Tall Tall. The cub is Bai Yun’s sixth. She turned 21 in July, making her the oldest giant panda known to give birth. Through participation in a panda exchange breeding program with China, researchers “have gone from zero to 100 overnight in understanding the species,” Swaisgood said. That’s very beneficial for conservation because “it’s hard to conserve what we do not understand.”
He called the panda the world’s “best loved species.”
Before the program, the future of the species was bleak, he said, because the death rate exceeded the birth rate. But in 2010, “we met the 200 individuals needed to preserve the genetic diversity of the species,” Swaisgood said to applause from the audience.
Swaisgood described efforts by scientists in China to track wild pandas. A wild panda will leave about 50 droppings a day, he said, and scientists can learn a lot from that, including information about DNA, hormones and diet.
Swaisgood said those taking part in the breeding program have done a good job.
“There is a feeling of hope that things are turning around for the species and it has a brighter future than it did 20 years ago,” he said.


Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

Updated 23 May 2018
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Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

  • Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish
  • Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy

KABUL: One of the only Qur’ans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.
Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish.
Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6 kilograms, the Qur’an was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.
“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, said in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-paneled complex.
With the Qur’an considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.
“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Qur’an) ... and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.
Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Qur’anic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.
They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.
The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.
A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.
“All the colors we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colors used in the Qur’an, said.
Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305 meters (1,000 feet) of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.
Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.
It hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.
“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Qur’an,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organization’s Afghan director.
For now, it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.
There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.
“The copying of the Qur’an onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe said.
He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work.”
“If a book collector in London... was interested in it, we would be thinking in the $100,000 to $200,000 (price) range,” he added.