Some animals seem to evoke more endearment than others and I’m guessing by the enthusiasm of the crowd at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the panda is near the top of the list. The minute I heard I was going to China, seeing pandas was firmly in my mind. Lucky for me, a visit to the Chengdu Panda Base was on the itinerary and being home to over 180 pandas, I figured the odds of seeing one was pretty good.
On the bus ride to the Chengdu Panda Base our guide Flora filled us in with a myriad of facts and figures about the pandas at the base and those which are loaned to zoos in countries around the world. We were told we were particularly lucky as the base currently had six newborns on show in the nurseries. My excitement grew instantly, not only would I be seeing pandas, but baby pandas!
Pandas are considered national treasures in China and with less than 2000 in the wild, the breeding and conservation work at the Chengdu Panda Base is essential to the survival of the species. Pandas only have 2-3 mating days per year, so timing is everything. The pregnancy is an enviable 3-6 months but there is a downside to being a mother panda, it’s guaranteed single parenting as the fathers have nothing to do with their young.
The fragile newborn pandas are born with pink skin and can’t hear or see at birth.
The nursery is by far the most popular attraction at the Chengdu Panda Base and there was a large queue to file past the babies in their humidicribs. Police stand in the enclosure and yell something on a loud speaker in Chinese if people use a flash or linger too long at the window. I lingered with my defense at the ready – I couldn’t understand what they were yelling.
At one year of age the babies are weaned and they start to eat bamboo and bamboo shoots.
I could have spent hours watching the young pandas at play. Although they appeared quite social, the panda is not a social animal. Females and males fight and after the age of five they are put in separate enclosures.
Pandas are picky about their food, apparently not eating their bamboo if it’s touched the ground. They like it delivered fresh to their platform and only eat the inside part of the bamboo. This all seems like the signs of a smart animal, I prefer my food hasn’t touched the ground either.
When I said I was going to China to see the pandas, many people expressed interest in hearing how well the pandas are cared for and I’m happy to report it all looks good at the Panda Base. The outdoor enclosures are large, tree-filled and look clean. I visited the centre in the afternoon and the pandas were all indoors. Once the temperature reaches above 26 degrees the pandas head for their air conditioned indoor enclosures. I wish I could have too, I looked like a dripping ice block which had been left in the sun too long.
As with so many places I visited in China, I was impressed by the lush and meticulously maintained gardens at the Chengdu Giant Panda Base. So much pride seems to go into the parks and attractions.
Red Pandas also call the Giant Panda Base home and have lovely large enclosures to explore. I’ve never seen so many in one animal park and so active. Often in Australia I see them dozing in trees.
Sealed paths lead visitors around the Giant Panda Base but many are steep. A power chair user would find it relatively easy to negotiate the steep paths but it would be quite a push for a manual chair user.
A free shuttle is available to guests and I suggest anyone with a mobility restriction use it to avoid some of the walking that is required in the vast attraction. The shuttle is popular so there may be a queue but it’s worth it if walking is difficult for you. Please note the shuttle is not wheelchair accessible but if you have a folding chair you may be able to take it along for the ride.
Our guide Flora asked if any of us needed to go to our “happy place” at each bathroom stop and although I didn’t need to go, I popped in so I could report back on access. Throughout the Chengdu Giant Panda Base there’s numerous unisex stand-alone bathroom facilities and they even have toilet paper! (Toilet paper isn’t something found in public bathroom facilities so pack your pocket packets of tissues somewhere handy each day.)
Like all the bathroom facilities I saw in my travels in China, the accessible toilets at the Giant Panda Base are surrounded by non-removable railings.
The bathrooms are large, clean and have plenty of room for circulation with a wheelchair.
Several of my fellow tour buddies noticed, as did I, that there is a distinct lack of birdlife in the areas we visited during our trip. Chengdu Giant Panda Base seemed an oasis for gorgeous little birds like the one above.
As mentioned above, by the time my tour group arrived at the Giant Panda Base the pandas were all in air-conditioned comfort. Thanks to my travel bestie Belinda for sharing her outdoor panda shots so I can show you the pandas at play in their backyards.
I was hosted by SNA Tours on their Pandamonium tour of China but as always, my opinions are my own.