The Chendgu Panda Breeding Research Base rose to prominence after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake damaged the much more natural Wolong Nature Reserve. The intention is to research improved methods of captive panda breeding and release more back into the wild, but most of the site is given over to tourism. As a result, the conservation centre is now one of the best easiest places in the world to see giant pandas.
A small museum and video quickly briefs visitors on the research taking place and a guide merrily displays some pickled panda genitals (which may be a hindrance to that particular bear’s future breeding prospects).
Walking round the bamboo-lined paths there are plenty of enclosures housing both fully-grown and baby pandas, along with the not-very-panda-like Red Panda. Between 8.30 and 10 is the feeding time when the bears actually look alive, as they seem to sleep the rest of the day.
It should all be very pleasant, but as with the bears at Beijing Zoo, the worst aspect of the Chengdu Panda Conservation Centre is the other visitors.
Signs at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Base
Be quiet – This one means shout and scream at each other. Also, if the animals aren’t cooperating with posing for your photos, feel free to shout at them as well. If that doesn’t work, then:
Show Respect – This one means throw biscuits, crackers, plastic toys and cigarette butts.
Any time a panda looked away from the photographers at least one person would throw something to get its attention. Nobody seemed to think this might be a bad idea.
If the panda babies are safely inconveniently behind glass, wave at the staff and they’ll happily poke them on your behalf to make them a little more lively.
No climbing – This means no climbing, unless you’re a Little Emperor child who rules your parents.
In that case, you’re perfectly entitled to sit wherever you like and no one is going to be allowed to tell you otherwise.
If the child is too fat and lazy to climb over the railings, feel free to pull the child up and place them inside the enclosure. What could possibly go wrong? They may as well pee into the enclosure whilst they’re up there as the toilets are at least 20 metres away.
As an adult, if the pesky railings are getting in your way, just set up your tripod on the wrong side of the rail then climb over to get that essential shot of a scared panda.
Anyway…grumpiness aside the pandas are quite cute, even though they spend a lot of time being very confused at their surroundings. All of my videos seem to involve a baby panda walking face first into trees or falling off logs:
Despite my reservations it’s still worth visiting. Entrance is only 30rmb. Reach the panda reserve via a short bus or taxi ride, or take a tour operated by many of the hotels. Being careful on the way back as the taxis that hang around the area are mostly fake gypsy cabs, but more about that next week…