Why pandas? Chengdu, the city in Sichuan province, is one of the most lively and populous cities of China (with some estimates including it in the 10 biggest cities in the entire world). Although its history is long and rich (for instance, it was a capital several times), and it’s been widely recognised as a city of exceptional gastronomical importance by UNESCO neither of these features are what attracts tourists in the first place. These are in fact giant pandas.
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Pandas are one of the main symbols of China. Your eye will meet it in airports, in hotels, on the streets, in cafes… But Chengdu is an undeniable panda capital, and that leaves no choice to the citizens and local government apart from putting panda literally everywhere.
The closer you get to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the more pandas you see with the epitome at the Base itself where the entrance is represented by a Giant Panda Arc and panda museum.
Panda-styled shops are the prettiest too! Panda sunglasses, toys, phone cases, postcards, jewellery, manicure sets, bottles and so on.
Tip: base is located not in the centre of the city, so keep in mind that you most probably will need time to get there.
Once you get to the Panda Cafe, you’ll be overwhelmed with coffee, buns, tables – everything is going to be ‘marked’ by these fluffy animals. Cuteness overload indeed!
As for the base itself… There is no secret that giant pandas are disappearing: there are just a few thousand animals left on our planet and those who are left are not very speedy in producing the offspring. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a place where over 100 giant pandas are provided with the imitation of their natural habitat and are cared for by professionals.
This leads to success in scientific studies and breeding (quite evident from the title, huh?): every year nursery welcomes new panda babies. Delivery house and nursery attract people the most, so be prepared to spend some time queuing up and then be rewarded with a (very) quick glance at the babies.
Animals are not kept in the wild but in a specially designed enclosures divided by age: from delivery house and nursery to sub-adult and adult pandas.
At the beginning (the base was founded about 30 years ago) there were only 6 pandas but now there are over 100 of them. You have a unique opportunity to learn about the animals as every enclosure has a detailed (and almost psychological!) dossier of the animals inside including name, date of birth, relationship to other pandas and habits.
The best time to visit the base is as early as you can – base opened at 7.30 during our trip and we managed to get there around 10am. Pandas are said to be active during the feeding time early in the morning, and the wast majority of animals were leisurely sitting or sleeping or nesting in the trees aka fatty birds (and it was a bit boring to watch, to be honest).
Thankfully, a few were still ready to eat and scratch their bottoms for the audience’s excitement. Activity of pandas also depends on season, and they are said to be sleeping for the whole days during hot and humid Chinese summers.
There used to be a paid option of holding a panda for photos or via volunteer programme, but it’s suspended at the moment of me writing this blog – due to the incident or to protect animals from stress, I’m not sure.
Tip: You can also catch a Sightseeing bus on the base itself – but beware of the crowds!
Red pandas too!
Red pandas are also present at the Chengdu Research Base – this species is also endangered with only around 5000 animals living in the wild. The funny thing is actually these animals were discovered almost half-century earlier than giant pandas and were named ’pandas’ first!
After scientists discovered the black-n-white animals we. now know as giant pandas, red pandas were renamed from jisut ’pandas’ to ’lesser/red pandas’. Besides that, lesser and giant pandas are not really close relatives in biological sense: first one are not bears but belong to the unique family Ailuridae.
I was also stunned by the beauty of bamboo forests – they look absolutely fantastic!
If you have some free time, I’d suggest you just stroll around for a bit and admire these majestic plants.
Hope you enjoyed my blog –
more blogs about my trip to China will be coming soon!
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Anna | London & Beyond
◈ featured in Vogue, CNN, Genic magazine
◈ Science journalist