EVERYBODY loves giant pandas. The adorable, endangered pandas are the name card for the city of Chengdu and the Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding. It's a destination not to be missed.
The beautiful base for China's national wildlife treasure has 114 giant pandas and 73 red pandas, as well as peacocks, swans and other animals.
Visitors can learn about panda protection and preservation from experts, and even have the chance to be a panda keeper for a day. Visitor keepers are taught how to take care of young pandas, including feeding them. Visitors can also learn about panda evolution, conservation and breeding. With unique attractions not found elsewhere, the base is both a tourist destination and education center.
Since the pandas are black and white, people joke that they cannot take a color snapshot. They sleep a lot, move slowly and spend most of their waking time eating. Though they are genetically and technically carnivores, they have adapted to living mostly on bamboo.
Xie Yi has been taking care of pandas at the center for 14 years, after studying veterinary science in college. She shares her experience and some little-known facts.
"Others think I've been here a long time, but I don't think so," she says. "I'm very happy to see the pandas every day and I can forget my worries and troubles when looking at them."
Pandas are smart, they just can't talk like humans, she says. When they hear their keepers coming, they wait by the door. They only answer to their own keepers, no one else, and a stranger cannot wake a sleeping panda by calling it.
Adult pandas are usually solitary and fight over territory when they encounter each other, Xie says, though younger pandas can stay in "kindergartens" together.
At night pandas must return to their cages both because of the weather and because otherwise they try to escape from their outdoor enclosure, Xie says.
"Once a panda tried to climb outside by standing on another panda's shoulder," she recalls.
Pandas spend a lot of time resting. All have their favorite spots, some in the branches of trees.
In addition to bamboo, pandas are fed on fruit and "panda bread," a kind of steamed bun for extra nutrition, says expert Yan Kuixin. Because they are vegetarian, pandas don't get a lot of energy and protein from their natural diet, accounting for their many hours of sleep and rest.
Being a panda keeper has its joys, but it's a lot of hard work. Xie does everything - feeding, cleaning cages, training and taking blood for tests. The job not only requires enthusiasm and dedication but also physical stamina.
"The hardest part is worrying about the pandas' health. Whey they get sick, they feel uncomfortable, they don't eat and need treatment. We need to be with them until they get well," Xie says.
Giant pandas are mainly found in Sichuan Province, and some in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. Wild pandas are an endangered species because of deforestation and loss of habitat, low rate of reproduction and low rate of survival in the wild. According to data in 2003, China boasts 1,596 wild pandas and a new round of wild research on the number of wild pandas will begin in March.
At the panda research center in Chengdu's northern suburbs, captive pandas are cared for around the clock. The base was established in 1987 with six pandas, three male and three female. This year the base has 114 giant pandas, including 51 males and 63 females. Eight cubs were born last year.
Panda expert Shen Fujun explains that pandas are not enthusiastic about courtship and mating. Cubs are so tiny that raising them is difficult. But years of research is solving breeding problems.
The research base has played a pioneering role in the field of panda protection. Since its foundation, it has insisted on using technology to protect pandas, applying scientific research to increase number and improve the stock. The base does not rely on obtaining pandas from the wild. Its population is based upon six ill and starving pandas rescued in the 1980s. From this, the world's largest group of pandas in a breeding program has developed without further additions from the wild.
At the same time, the base is also committed to rescuing and treating sick wild pandas before releasing them back to their habitat, working in a lead role with other agencies and institutions.
In 1980, the research base first succeeded in artificial insemination using frozen semen. In 2006, problems with gathering milk were solved, ensuring that twin panda cubs get enough colostrum. This has led to an improvement in the survival rate from 70 percent to 100 percent in recent years.
And by establishing scientific feeding methods, the base has helped prevent common conditions that previously afflicted pandas, such as chronic diarrhea and malnutrition.
The base has also taken a lead in genetic management, its gene source bank vital for protecting species diversity. The world's largest panda semen bank, the panda cell bank and tissue sample bank are also located here.
What to see year-round
Raising cubs, panda training
Courtship and mating, cubs grow to adolescence, panda training
Cubs grow to adolescence, summer camp, bird watching
Cubs are born, maternal care, hand-rearing, panda training