Friday, November 13, 2015

The Chengdu Giant Pandas


Pandas are one of the most beloved species around the world, and after our visit to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, I understood why. I was seriously tempted to leave everything behind and do some full time volunteering work at the center. After all, that would be my only chance to hold a baby panda - the cutest little creature I’ve ever seen - in my very own arms.

Today, the population of pandas in the world is less than 2000, 70% of which distributed in the province of Sichuan, and approximately 130 at the Chengdu Research Base. 

Despite the exceptional work done at the Centre, it's hard to imagine those bears surviving by themselves in the wild. Not only because its natural habitat (the high mountains of central-western region of China) is seriously endangered, but especially by the fact that pandas are, by nature, solitary animals, having little (to say none) sex drive, with half of the puppies brought by artificial insemination. When born, cubs are premature and generally rejected by their mother. Also the bamboo-based diet offers very little nutrients, requiring about 20 to 40 kg of the plant daily to keep them in ideal weight.

Fortunately and surprisingly the pandas at the park were super active, eating, rolling around and climbing on branches and trunks, just like monkeys. I never imagined that an animal of such stature was so skilled climbing trees.

It is still a mystery why pandas stopped eating meat, as their digestive system is originally carnivore. In the Research Base, as well as bamboo, their diet is supplemented with carrots, apples and "Panda Cakes" a pie made of flour, soybeans and oats. Pandas love it, and eat from 3 to 5 daily, served on the tip of a stick by the volunteers, which also motivates them to exercise a little. And seeing them go after the cakes was one of my favorite parts of the visit.

The other was watching panda cubs in the maternity ward. There is a massive line to get in, and for this same reason, the average time in front of the display window is around 30 seconds per person. I could have stayed there all day long, gushing over the three cubs sleeping peacefully, as one of the volunteers moved them from one side to the other, just like Teddy Bears. But a security guard ensured that, once you took the picture or a selfie (Chinese are crazy about selfie sticks!) you move on and give your place to the next in line.

The park is immense, and besides the giant panda enclosures, you can see other endangered animals such as the red panda, a kind of raccoon, popularly known as lesser-panda and characterized by Master Shifu in the Disney movie Kungfu Panda.

Admission is 58 CNY (9.50 USD) per person, which for China, is a real bargain. There are also guided tour options, offered in our hostel for 120 CNY (20USD) per person. If you're out of time the tour becomes very attractive, otherwise, visiting by yourself remains the best choice. We took a bus to Chengdu Zoo and from there, bus 87 (or 198) for 2 CNY only, which left us pretty much at the park’s entrance. Early morning is the best time to visit, anytime from 8 am to 10 am, when the pandas are feeding and active.

The complex also has a museum, that explains the origin and the evolution of pandas over the past 8 million years, as well as the scientific efforts to preserve and prevent the extinction of the species; a quite informative cinema (in both English and Chinese languages); a kitchen, where the food is prepared for the pandas; a veterinary clinic and a research and training center.

We loved to see the animals up close and get to know about the work done at the Centre, even though it was not at this time that we hugged a panda. It was totally worth visiting Chengdu, a city that besides its lovely black & white inhabitants has beautiful parks, where retirees play Mahjong (a kind of domino on steroids) while having a nice cup of tea at the various available tea houses.

For those who like the hustle and bustle, Kuan Xiangzi and Zhai Xiangzi alleys are a full plate. The history of these alleys dates back to the year 1650, although what we see today is pretty much a refurbished complex of shops, restaurants and even a Starbucks. The narrow streets are filled with local tourists, but a closer look up the facades always reveals some traditional Chinese architecture.

Do not miss our visit to the park of giant pandas from Chengdu below
(turn on captions for English subtitles)

Giant Pandas of Chengdu


  1. What a cute post. Pandas are my favourite, OMGI love them so much. Got to know many amazing thing about them. Thank you for the share.

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