One of the main reasons for going to Chengdu was to see the giant pandas up close and personal. So we made it a priority and on the second day of our trip we went to the Chengdu Research Base for the Giant Panda.
This is where almost all of the captive breeding happens. It is also the place where most of the adult pandas living in international zooâ€™s come from and eventually return to. So this place is all about pandas all the time! Mommies, daddies and babies!
We went with a group from our hostel very early in the morning. The center opens at 8 and that is feeding time when the panda’s are most active. If you wait until the middle of the day you’ll likely only see the backsides of panda’s as they sleep.
The weather was also not very good. I will apologize in advance for the blurry photos. It wasn’t rainy it was just very overcast and gloomy. Also, you couldn’t use flashes when taking pictures of the pandas.
So anyway, we enter the center via a long road. We are just walking and talking with some fellow travelers at this point and aren’t really paying much attention. We ended up walking on a windy path through the woods and without warning or any pomp we found ourselves in front of our first panda. Just hanging out against a tree:
The whole center has a very natural feel to it. There are no fences or high walls. Instead they have waist high stone and wood fences and deep troughs around the panda side to keep them in. Adult pandas are, by nature, solitary creatures so each one has a very large living area filled with trees, shady spots, bamboo platforms and more. It looked like a very nice place to live.
After a good 10-15 minutes of oohing-and-aaahing the guide made us continue. Soon enough we came across another big ‘ole panda munching away on bamboo. It is just mesmerizing to sit and watch them eat. The have something called false thumbs which help them peel leaves of a bamboo shoot more efficiently but isn’t as complex or useful as human thumbs. I don’t know if it is the false thumbs, or their cute rolly-polly bellies but there is something almost human like about these bears as they eat, like it isn’t really an animal just a human in a suit pretending to be a panda.
We continued on until we hit the adorable motherload; 4 baby pandas eating together on a big bamboo platform. Young panda’s aren’t solitary and in this reserve they live close together. They were at least a year old and they still had much of their baby energy while having the adult tummy and lazy style. They would grab the top of a bamboo shoot and just lean back and eat it without a care in the world. Sometimes they would lean back into the lap or belly of another panda and neither of them minded! It was so, so, so cute. So cute. Seriously.
Before heading off to the nursery where the really young pandas were we paid a visit to the red pandas. These were very cute as well, almost like a mix between a fox, cat and raccoon. They were a million more times active then their black-and-white brethren and were running around like crazy trying to get the bamboo to snack on. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, red and giant pandas are related but distantly. While giant pandas eat only bamboo the red panda eats bamboo, fruit and even some occasional insects or small animals.)
The red pandas were fun to watch but we still had some seriously adorable business to attend: We had to go to the panda nursery.
The breeding center has some rules when displaying pandas. A 0-6-month-old panda is never shown. The 6-12-month-olds live in a nursery which you are able to see but only behind glass and NO flash photography is allowed. After 1 years of age they are allowed to go outside to eat (like the group we saw).
Well, the first nursery room we saw was 2 little lumps of black and white fur sleeping in a crib with a toy ball. Again, so cute. But all they did was sleep.
The next 2 nursery rooms had their curtains closed so we couldn’t see in. The last room was the best. They had 2 older babies one of which was very active. He kept crawling up all over the bars in the cage and somehow managed to squeeze his head and body through the bars into the other section. The whole room was just a bunch of cages so it wasn’t like he was able to escape or anything, he was just having fun. It was very dark there but we did manage to take a video of this little Houdini. (I have to figure out how to make the size smaller to upload it to this site…give me a few days and check back for the video.)
One person in our group did go ahead and spend 1000 rmb to get their picture taken with a baby panda. She had to wear a special gown and face mask and her husband wasn’t allowed in the room but she said it was amazing. She said the fur on the panda is much longer than you would expect but incredibly soft and cuddly. It is so nice to hear that the panda is as soft as it looks. Usually cute animals, like the koala bear, have tough, bristly fur. But according to her the pandas are all softness and fuzz.
Okay, enough talking I know you just want to see pictures of pandas anyway, so enjoy!