Day four of our Cathay Pacific China Experience shaped up to be quite a memorable day, and boy did it deliver. With a morning-long visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Dad and I had ample opportunity to snap some shots of quite possibly one of the most beautiful creatures on this planet – the Giant Panda.
While not currently an available option as part of Cathay Pacific’s current tour package offerings, the Chengdu/Panda experience is something, I am reliably told, that they are working on offering in the near future.
So with that little bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s get stuck into today’s adventure and some photos of the cute little black and white furries.
Phillip, our Chengdu guide greeted us in the lobby of our hotel with a big smile on his face at 8am sharp. Sounds early, but it represented a welcome sleep-in of sorts for Dad and me who were perhaps struggling a little from the back-to-back early morning starts and fully scheduled days prior to today.
All packed up and ready to fly to our next destination following the days’ activities in Chengdu, we piled into the awaiting vehicle and headed off. Phillip, who spoke very good English in comparison to our previous guides, was quite obviously very proud of his home city. He gave us quite a good rundown of the history of Chengdu, now home to over 10 million people, and also a thorough description of the Giant Panda and its history and significance to the Chengdu region. He explained the reasons why breeding is so difficult for the Panda, and touched on why the breeding centre we were about to visit was set up.
In what seemed like a short amount of time, probably because we were listening to Phillip so intently, we had arrived at the centre and my camera shutter finger started to get pretty itchy – I was excited, that was for sure!
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
I had planned to give you the quick rundown on what the Research Base is all about and what they are attempting to achieve in creating and opening up such a fantastic centre to the general public, but strangely enough, their website does a perfectly suitable job at this, so here you go (quoted from www.panda.org.cn).
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (hereafter Chengdu Panda Base) is a non-profit organization engaged in wildlife research, captive breeding, conservation education, and educational tourism.
The Chengdu Panda Base was founded in 1987, with six giant pandas rescued from the wild. Today (2008) our captive population has increased to 83 individuals from that founding population of only six. Genetic diversity in the population is sustained by the exchange of preserved genetic material with other facilities. We are very proud that we have not taken any giant pandas from the wild for 20 years. This demonstrates our unique and uncompromising commitment to the conservation of the wild ( in situ ) population and the healthy growth of the captive ( ex situ ) population.
Due to our research and commitment to animal health and welfare, 124 giant panda cubs have been born to our Base in 85 litters, 88 survived and now we have 83. To assist other institutions holding giant pandas we provide technical support and send our experts to assist with care, rearing, and breeding. So that all giant panda researchers can share their knowledge, we host the Giant Panda Annual Technical Meeting, inviting researchers from all over the world to share information to improve captive management for the conservation of giant pandas.
The Chengdu Panda Base covers an area of 106 hectares and will be enlarged to 200 hectares during the third phase of our expansion. Red pandas, golden monkeys and other wild and/or endangered species live and breed here.
Once inside the gates, the hustle and bustle of the outside world faded away as we strolled along beautiful bamboo-lined paths that led to the panda enclosures which were well sign-posted. One of the first things that struck me was just how clean the park was. There really wasn’t a scrap of rubbish or even messy area of foliage to be seen. Much like the ultra-impressive “Australia Zoo” back home, it’s evident that the staff of the centre are doing all they can to protect the pandas and other captive inhabitants from human interference (including rubbish etc). A big thumbs up for that effort!
Naturally, there were plenty of people about already by the time we had arrived and it was a safe bet that where everyone appeared to be congregated, pandas were to be seen. Our first encounter was with 4 or 5 juvenile pandas sitting on a platform about 20 feet from us, demolishing bamboo shoots like there was no tomorrow. Cameras were running hot around us so the logical step was for Dad and me to join in.
Traveling deeper into the bamboo-lined park, we found a number of other enclosures containing both adult and infant pandas – the latter being the obvious crowd favourite. I have to be honest though, the ever-so-cute little guys were pretty hard to photograph as, due to their smaller size, they kind of became lost in the bamboo branches offered to them for breakfast.
As mentioned in the quoted website description listed above, Giant Panda wasn’t the only type of panda we found while wandering the breeding centre. We also came across a number of cheeky Red Panda who had just finished their morning feed and were scurrying around, much to the delight of onlookers. These guys really are very cute and I could easily have spent a lot longer with them had time permitted.
As it turned out, however, we were on a bit of a time schedule as after about 90 minutes of time spent with the various pandas from the outside of their enclosures, Dad and I were given the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the beautiful beasts with a VIP “meet a panda” experience.
Waiting in line at one of the enclosures with a dozen or so others, we were handed shoe coverings and gloves that we were to wear into the enclosure when it was our turn to “meet” our new, big, cuddly, black and white friend. Staff members took a few shots for Dad and me as we got about 1 minute each to pet the big guy who was quite frankly more interested in the selection of apples he was gifted, more than providing us with a perfect Kodak moment.
Regardless I think we got a great souvenir from this pretty special meet and greet. Incidentally, in case you ever get over to Chengdu to check out the pandas for yourselves, we worked out that the “meet the panda” experience costs around 500 yuan (about AUS $90).
After a really enjoyable few hours spent at the breeding centre, and a quick visit to the gift shop to pick up some souvenirs (see above) for my niece and nephew back home in Brisbane, we headed back into town for lunch. Phillip, as with all the other guides we’ve had so far, was keen for us to try some cuisine specific to the local area. So after a little consultation, mainly to work out to what degree we liked the spice in our food to be (not a lot when it came to Dad), he ordered a selection of dishes that consisted of bamboo shoots, a ridiculously yummy beef dish, an assortment of vegetable plates and an odd but tasty kind of corn fairy bread which we washed down with plenty of tea and a Tsingtao beer. Magic!
Last stop following lunch and as a way of killing some time before heading back out to the airport, Phillip took us on a mini walking tour through a really picturesque tourist area called Kuanxiangzi Alley. Lined with an assortment of small old-style hotels, restaurants, leisure teahouses, and other tourist stores, there was plenty to see and enjoy.
I cannot tell you how much will-power I had to employ to stay out of this wicked looking bar that was taunting me with Australian beers (the Crownies and Cascade in particular) that haven’t touched my lips in over 6 months!
There’s nothing quite like getting some fella on the side of the street to give your ears a thorough cleaning out in public! Oh the things we have seen over the past few days…!
With a great day of panda and other sight-seeing in Chengdu under our belts, it was time to head back out to the airport where we said our goodbyes to our guide, Phillip, and boarded a plane to Kunming. Here we grabbed our bags, went through the whole rigmarole of checking in again and, after a quick break, eventually took off bound for our next destination – Shangri-La!