Chengdu Travel Blog› entry 14 of 42 › view all entries
The main reason we came to Chengdu was for the pandas. The majority of wild pandas are in the Sichuan region, and there are 2 panda bases nearby. The one at Wolong was largely destroyed in the recent earthquake, and some of the pandas who survived are being looked after and receiving 'cuddle therapy' at the Chengdu base.
The Chengdu base is largely involved with captive breeding and research.
At birth, pandas are exceedingly underdeveloped and are the size and appearance of a naked rat. Even with human involvement only about 2/3 survive. The number is far lower in the wild. Considering the size they grow to in just 10 months (see pic), you can see how important that first year is in their survival. The youngest pandas we saw were 10 months, they were so like human toddlers it was quite unnerving! They have a lot of human interaction at this age, and there was a keeper in with the 6 babies at all times. It was just as well as they kept getting into scrapes, their climbing skills were not very finely tuned! One panda stood up on it's back legs to look at something and fell forward into the keeper, grabbing her by the legs as it went down.
The bigger pandas we saw were about 1 ½ years old, and much more competant climbers. At this age their diet consists mainly of bamboo which was out for them when we arrived. Despite the feast in front of them, a couple of them were far more interested in their rough and tumble game. The enclosures were fantastic, huge and with many trees and logs to play with. The older ones loved playing on the swing, and would repeatedly pull their friend off it to jump on themselves then try to defend their position! We were very lucky as we went arrived at about 8am when they are at their most active.
As we approached the baby section we saw a small poster advertising to have your picture taken with one of the babies for a set donation. As it is my birthday soon, Lisa paid for me to do this! There were 6 babies which were rotated for the period of photo taking, and given snacks and cuddles, I can honestly say that they were as happy as larry to be there. We got in the queue, Lisa came too to take the photos (although you'd think for the money they could have thrown one in!). I was given an apron and plastic gloves so that I didn't get germs and dirt on it, then I sat down on the bench next to the guy who was holding it already. A couple of keepers came in a lifted it onto my lap! OH MY GOD I WAS HOLDING A BABY PANDA!!! I still can't quite believe it now! It was really heavy and kinda smelly, but so so cute. It didn't mind me giving it a tickle behind it's ears and just carried on eating an apple, after wiggling a bit and putting it's paw on my arm. All to quickly (about 5 mins) they moved it on to the next person and I had to leave. Now that really IS a tough birthday present to follow next year!