Description

Posted by sarita-maria in Panda Adventures | 10 November 2011

We went to the nursery where we found a big crib full of panda cubs. They were about 4 months old and were so adorable. We could only look at them through a window, though, but I tried my best to get a good photo of them. Sadly, the glass made my attempts blurry. There was a veterinarian in the nursery with them, checking each one of them on a regular basis. In the wild, there are not very many pandas in one given area, so whatever breeding that does happen in the wild tends to be within related pandas. The panda cubs born out of those pairings often don't live very long because of the overlapping genes. For a while, the giant panda's population started to drop so fast that research bases like the one in Chengdu were started in order to conserve the beloved and unique species. The scientists and veterinarians make sure the genetics of the parenting pandas do not overlap so that the cubs have a greater chance of survival. More and more pandas are being reintroduced into the wild every year and their population is steadily growing.

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One of our days in Chengdu, our Chengdu guides Ann and Evan took us to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. I was so excited for this day, but when the day came, I was feeling really sick. I have no idea why, but we had hotpot the night before and I don't know? Maybe the Chengdu food got to me. Anyway, I refused to let that get in the way of my panda visit - they are, after all, what I named this blog for. The chance to see them might be a one-time occurrence. So, I dragged myself to get some lunch (which did not stay down) and across town in a taxi ride that I could only wish to be shorter. We got to the bus station and I was sitting there wondering if I was really in the condition to go anywhere, I really did feel terrible. As we were walking towards the bus, I had one more case of the upchucks (super embarrassing) but ahh! Like magic, I felt 180 degree, complete turn-around, totally great and ready to see pandas! Just in time too because the bus we took was much longer than expected and very bumpy (which still made my stomach jump a little).

My Chengdu group, with our guides Ann and Evan on the far right and our panda guide, Pansy, next to me on the left
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We got to the Research Base and were greeted by two ginormous statues of pandas, but no actual pandas. The reserve is built into a large expanse of bamboo forest, which was absolutely beautiful, but it felt like we were walking through a giant corn maze as we wove our way on the paths to the panda exhibit. The signs to the exhibits were misleading, and just when I felt like we were walking in circles I looked up and saw a panda taking a nap in the tree right in front of the group! I went a little camera crazy with the first panda, who actually had his back turned to us and was partially hidden by the tree branches, so I have many pictures of that fuzzy, black and white back. We went on to find many more pandas that were a lot more lively than the one in the tree. It was dinner time when we got there, so we saw the pandas at their liveliest, waddling around slowly and munching on bamboo. Did you know that even though there are hundreds of species of bamboo, pandas only eat one specific kind? That certain species of bamboo only grows in Sichuan province in China, so pandas can only be found in this one part of China in the wild. I thought that was so amazing that such a unique species could only be found in such a small corner of China.
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We went to the nursery where we found a big crib full of panda cubs. They were about 4 months old and were so adorable. We could only look at them through a window, though, but I tried my best to get a good photo of them. Sadly, the glass made my attempts blurry. There was a veterinarian in the nursery with them, checking each one of them on a regular basis. In the wild, there are not very many pandas in one given area, so whatever breeding that does happen in the wild tends to be within related pandas. The panda cubs born out of those pairings often don't live very long because of the overlapping genes. For a while, the giant panda's population started to drop so fast that research bases like the one in Chengdu were started in order to conserve the beloved and unique species. The scientists and veterinarians make sure the genetics of the parenting pandas do not overlap so that the cubs have a greater chance of survival. More and more pandas are being reintroduced into the wild every year and their population is steadily growing.
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There aren't only giant pandas in the Research Base. There are also red pandas that live and are bred there. How the two species are related is beyond me. One is big, black and white, and has a short tail, while the other is about the size of a cat, reddish-brown, and has a long bushy tail. Red pandas sort of look like raccoons because of the mask-like design on their faces and bushy, striped tail. The Chinese word for panda is "xiong mao" which translates into English as "bear cat." While I can see the small red panda as maybe being a distant relative to a cat, I was surprised when our tour guide called the giant panda a cat as well. I distinctly remembered reading that the giant panda is, in fact, a bear, but when I started to argue it made no difference to my guide. In China, pandas are cats. There was actually a sign at the Research Base with all the world's big cats, and next to the tiger was a panda. Doesn't make sense to me, but it's just another difference that I have to get used to in this country.
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Right before the Base was scheduled to close, our group decided to take one last hike to see the giant pandas again. We came to the area that had the juvenile pandas. For a while they weren't doing much, but as more and more people left the park, they became much more active. They started playing with each other and rolling around the area. It seemed like the less people there were watching them, the more they felt comfortable just being playful teenager pandas. After about 15 minutes of tumbling around, their caretaker yelled for them and they all ran off, although it was probably just more of a fast waddle. Our time watching those pandas play was such a great end to the day and we all left with huge smiles on our faces. One of the boys in my group had a great camera and got a fantastic video of it, including their run at the end. I, however, brought the worst camera possible, but did my best to capture some of the playtime. For whatever reason, I can't upload the video onto this blog, but I'll try to show people when I get home!
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