In China, people refer to the giant panda as their national treasure. Everywhere we look in Chengdu there are panda statues, wall paintings, t-shirts, back packs, kiddy rides and Kung Fu Panda references. The city is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and people here are absolutely crazy about pandas. (Like this giant atop a building on Chunxi Road.)
The panda base is on the north side of the city and we caught a taxi to get there early in the day. The crowds were light at that time and we got in without waiting.We opted to skip the line up for the panda bus and headed straight into the park on foot. Our first stop was the adolescent panda enclosure. They had just been fed and were busy doing what teenage pandas do – eating and trying to expend as little energy as possible! (Some of you may know teenagers of the human variety that fit this description as well).Since a panda’s diet consists primarily of bamboo, they have to eat a lot of it to stay nourished. A 250 pound adult can eat 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo everyday! They also have to conserve as much energy as possible as the bamboo they consume does not have a lot of calories. The resulting lifestyle resembles what it would look like if the humans in Wall-E had a toga party with nothing but giant Pixie Sticks on the menu.
You only have to watch these amazing creatures devouring bamboo, lounging, rolling or flopping a few minutes to understand why people all over the world love them. They exude comfortableness and contentment and you cannot help but feel happy just being around them. Adult giant pandas are very solitary in the wild – living amongst the bamboo forests in the mountains. Their living spaces at the base were constructed accordingly. Each adult had plenty of space to roam if they chose but most of the ones we saw were busy sleeping. In the wild, a panda will spend 10 to 16 hours foraging and eating and the rest of the day sleeping. The base’s mission is to treat sick or injured pandas in preparation for their return to the wild as well as maintain an adult population for breeding purposes. A panda mother will sometimes give birth to a pair of cubs but, in nature, only raises the one she determines is the healthiest. In the wild the second one quickly expires. In the panda base however, the abandoned one is retrieved by the facility staff and raised for release in the wild as a means of more quickly rebuilding the population. There were several buildings dedicated to newborn panda birth and rearing. The newborn viewing area is not unlike that of a human hospital. The tiny cubs were in little climate controlled plexiglass cribs positioned next to a window where onlookers could get close and take pictures.The park is visited by people from all over the world. The pandas are viewed by an average of 100,000 visitors every year. Everywhere we looked people were taking pictures and posing for selfies with the pandas or other features.There was also a large red panda area. They are really more closely related to the raccoon but share the same ecosystem, and (thanks to a misinformed early explorer), the same name.
In addition to the pandas, the base has an endangered black swan breeding program. They paddled around a body of water there, surprisingly called, Swan Lake. Feeding by visitors was allowed here as this swan apparently knew well!
Be sure to check out the 24-hour panda cam!