Posts Tagged With: Bifengxia

Hands up who wants to feed the giant pandas?

Well of course we all do. So when we read that we had the opportunity, not just to see the pandas but to get involved, it was too good to miss. This promised to be the highlight of the trip for me and before you all start worrying (Mum)…I’m pleased to say it did not disappoint!
This is why we had come to Chengdu and, in fact, it seems that this is a big part of why the giant city of Chengdu is expanding at the rapid rate it is today-panda tourism. However, there had been a last minute change of plan to our itinerary before we left the UK. Instead of us being able to do our volunteering at the nearby Chengdu Panda Research Centre, we now had to travel two hours to get to the Bifengxia panda breeding centre in faraway Yaan. The reason for this is that they have actually just stopped the volunteer programme at Chengdu. We therefore had to get up at 5:30 in order to be at the centre for 8:30 ready to start work. We drove crazy fast up the motorway to Yaan and as views were just mostly rural China, typically grey and cloudy, we slept most of the way. It’s debatable at this point whether the driving here is worse than we experienced in India. I think the Chinese won as I just don’t ever remember driving anywhere this fast in India-the roads there aren’t up to it.
Eventually we left the motorway and then wound our way up a mountain road alongside a great gorge with a big brown river at the bottom of it. There was bamboo forest on either side. Then finally up at 1000metres we arrived at our place of work for the day.
We got dressed in our ‘digbies’ (or overalls for anyone who isn’t my brother) and then it was all aboard the golf cart to whizz us down to the enclosures where we’d be working. It was all a bit chaotic as no-one spoke much English and it all seemed to be being run by students. There was no health and safety briefing although we did have to sign some sort of indemnity. This seemed to be more focused on making sure we did our days work rather than anything else. Before we left the keepers office though we had our first sighting of a Giant Panda out of the back window. It was a gorgeous 5 year old who we would later help to clean out and feed.
We were split into teams to do our work and Joyce and Enid went of with a lady keeper and also ‘Amanda’ who was an international nursing student shadowing us for the day to improve her a English. Her grandad was one of the security guards at the centre. Jane and I stuck with Elena and one of the male keepers who gave us our orders.
Our jobs today were to clean three panda enclosures firstly by moving out the old bamboo, then sweeping up leaves and panda pooh and then replacing new bamboo. It was hot work and I must say it all felt vaguely pointless but the keeper told us that the pandas are very fussy and won’t eat day old bamboo. So there we go ..our work was important after all! Not sure about the bit where we had to sweep leaves off the slippery road though?
Whilst we were working the Chinese tourists were most amused by us and took our photos and shouted ‘Hallo!’. It wasn’t very busy (in fact this was a benefit of coming to Bifengxia as its much quieter than Chengdu) and once we’d finished our work we were allowed a break to go and stare at pandas. There are lots of different enclosures and at times we were surrounded by pandas. It was amazing to think that there are only 1800 left in the world. The pandas here all seemed happy enough and certainly seemed healthy and well cared for. Many of the pandas at Bifengxia have been re-located from elsewhere, particularly from Wolong Reserve which was badly affected by the serious Sichuan earthquake in 2008. It’s a shame they are not wild but at least these here are living in more or less their natural environment at this altitude. We were also told that they do try to get young pandas that they breed released back into the wild
Of course we took hundreds of photos but then it was time to get back to work. Now we had to prepare to feed the pandas. Whoopee! We had to cut up apples and carrots and panda biscuits into bite sized chunks. Then we went back to our individual panda’s indoor enclosures and fed them through the bars. I have to say this really moved me and when it came to my turn I nearly cried. They are so gentle as we handed them bits of biscuit and then apple and we got so close to them we could really look into their expressive eyes. Ahhhhhh.
Now our days work was done and we were free to wander around some of the other enclosures and stare at more pandas. We found year old pandas up great big trees and then a really young couple of pandas rolling around and playing. So cute as they made little meowing noises!
We also found the panda nursery and could see through a window two tiny pandas of about a month old. Unfortunately, they were fast asleep and in cots so we couldn’t really see them very well. I did arrive here hoping to be able to cuddle a panda but it is extremely expensive to do this (voluntary contribution) and now quite frankly, it felt a bit wrong. It was just amazing to have spent some time close to these beautiful creatures and on our way out we bought bagfulls of toy pandas that were quite happy for us to cuddle them.

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