China’s National Treasure, the Pandas of Chengdu

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

Chengdu wasn’t actually part of our plans for China, it was in the opposite direction to everywhere else we were going but it seemed a marvellous idea after a few beers in a bar in Xi’an and we found ourselves joining our friends, occupying a six berth hard sleeper compartment in the overnight train to Sichuan.

Hard sleeper to ChengduChengdu is Sichuan’s capital city, a large metropolis famed for its food and its pandas.

It was the pandas we were here for, more out of curiosity than ‘to see a panda’.

I was curious about the breeding centres and how they fitted into the conservation efforts to save the Giant Panda.

If I am to be brutally honest, I am more passionate about saving the bees, vultures and other creatures which have greater impact within their environments than the Giant Panda but the loss of any species by the human hand is a tragedy.

The Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre is  20 km north of Chengdu: we visited by bus – well three buses from our hostel – it was pretty straightforward.

We had set off early to arrive for feeding time but Giant Pandas take a while to munch on their bamboo so there was no rush really.

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

I am always very wary of visiting zoos and the such like, in Asia particular. It breaks my heart to see animals being kept in confined, horrific conditions but from what I saw of the Breeding Research Centre the Pandas looked happy and healthy.

It was well laid out and the enclosures were great.

The Breeding Research Centre is smart and welcoming, designed over a large area with trails to the enclosures through leafy woodland and tall bamboo.

On arrival we marched to the nearest enclosure to see the feeding.

Luckily the park wasn’t that busy, mostly just young school groups who passed us waving and calling out “hello!” and “nice to meet you!”

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

A small crowd was watching a pair of Giant Panda eating their way through some freshly cut bamboo.

It was at this point I realized, I had never actually seen a real live Giant Panda before!

It occurred to me that they looked like a child’s painting of an animal with their bold black and white markings.

It was fascinating to watch them eat, they systematically stripped the leaves off the length of bamboo then bunched the leaves together in their paws to munch on, quite oblivious to their audience.

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

There was a nursery nearby where we saw some baby Giant Pandas, tiny black and while balls of fur sleeping in a tray, a veterinarian nurse was picking them out one by one to clean them, dusting their fluffy bums with a cloth.

There were many more Giant Panda enclosures, each with a sign or two noting who was in there: the Panda’s name, date of birth, parents and character traits.

Some were eating, some were snoozing on the wooden platforms and one was sleeping cat-like among the branches of a tree.

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

We came across a female Giant Panda who was being discussed by a Breeding Centre worker and a tourist volunteer.

She was patiently ‘begging’ while they chatted, sitting upright on her hind legs with her tongue stuck out, it was really sweet!

As soon as they left she dropped down and ambled away, disappointed.

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, ChinaDid you know, the Red Panda was called Panda before the Panda Panda was?
It was simply called Panda, then they discovered the black and white Panda – which they called Giant Panda – and added Red to the Panda!
The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base also holds the worlds biggest kept community of Red Pandas.
These cute little mammals had far more open enclosures than the Giant Pandas, they chased one another, scented their surroundings, fought over food, all completely oblivious to the cameras and tourists.
Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China
At the edge of the lake some Chinese tourists were feeding the many ornamental fish and Black Swans, we passed them and found a small cafe/restaurant further on towards the exit where we bought some inexpensive lunch and had a much-needed sit down.
Nearby there was a gift shop and Panda Base post office where you can buy postcards, write them, add fun ink stamps to them and post them effortlessly to your Panda loving friends back home.

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

Overall I was impressed by the conditions the Pandas appeared to be housed in, the Base was a pleasant place to walk around and explore. If you have a ton of money you can fork out to have your photo taken with a Giant Panda, shoulder to shoulder if you like.

What disappointed me about the base was the lack of conservation messages, I found nothing that informed the visitor of what happened to all the baby Giant Pandas when they grew up {did I miss this?}. Were they released into the wild? Is there enough wilderness to release them into? Are they sent to other breeding centres in China? Or are they all loaned out, for a huge fee, to zoos around the world, just like Tian Tian and Yang Guang in Edinburgh Zoo {who I believe were born here}? If they are released into the wild, how do they fare, are they able to adapt easily into the wild environment? I left with so many unanswered questions.

I do understand though, that without these facilities, unfortunately the Giant Panda is probably doomed, they do themselves no favours when it comes to mating and their natural habitat is rapidly diminishing. Preserving what is left should be equally as important, and beneficial to many other species too.

Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre | Chengdu, China

Pin the pandas for later!

The Pandas of Chengdu

Try these posts:

Glittering Shanghai exploring this magnificent city.

Shanghai. Gardens, Art and the Smog from Hell The air suddenly became lethally toxic!

Shanghai Museum A slick museum in a building shaped like a dish!

Pretty Zhujiajiao, a Day Trip From Shanghai a gorgeous old watertown.

The Great Wall is a Mighty Dragon. Wandering the Great Wall almost alone!

Food and Culture in the Muslim Quarter, Xi’an So delicious, so wonderful, so different.

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By Rachel Davis

9 Responses

  1. Ayla says:

    Awwwwww I love them all!!

    You can’t go to China and not see pandas so I think this trip was definitely needed. They just don’t look real do they?! I’ve seen them in Hong Kong before but not this close up – fab pics! I’m hoping to see the ones at Edinburgh Zoo soon. This looks fantastic though.

  2. Tilly says:

    Amazing photos of the pandas. Must put this on my travel to-do list!

  3. Ahhhh!!!! The babies!!! Must get there one day.

  4. Dave Rowley says:

    OMG I love the pics of the baby pandas! I want that job of taking care of them and dusting their bums. Very cute. And I love the pic of the grown panda with tongue out begging. Looks like a fun visit!

  5. chef mimi says:

    Rachel, I am so jealous!