Most of us will never have the opportunity to see a panda in real life. One of the world’s most endangered animals, there are very few of these animals kept in captivity around the world. The entire wild population and bulk of captive pandas live in and around Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China. It’s the reason why the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base is one of Chengdu’s most popular attractions – a chance to see China’s cute and cuddly icon up close!
I’d be lying if I said that our visit to the Breeding Centre wasn’t one of my most anticipated stops on our China trip! We aren’t always big fans of zoos, and are very conscious of any place we visit that deals with wild animals – so many institutions that exist do more harm than good, often exploiting the animals that they keep. This isn’t the case with the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base. Originally founded in 1987, the centre rescued injured pandas from the wild and rehabilitated them. It had just 6 pandas when it began operating. Today, there are more than 120 pandas at the base and they have successfully bred and reintroduced hundreds more into the wild.
We set off for the Research Base nice and early, as the pandas are most active during their early morning feeding. Just a 15 minute drive outside of Chengdu, we arrived just after 8AM and followed our guide through the exhibits. No words can describe the joy when we saw our first panda – a sub-adult, under two years old, chomping (loudly!) on bamboo without a care in the world! You can’t help but smile at these beautiful bears! Much smaller than we were expecting, they looked so content in their exhibits – full of dense lush vegetation to give them privacy – chowing down on piles and piles of bamboo.
The absolute highlight at the Research Base was the juvenile enclosure – this had a number of baby pandas around 6 months of age. There is possibly nothing cuter in the world than a baby panda. Those viral videos you see on Facebook of pandas doing silly things, falling out of trees and just being clumsy – they’re actually like this in real life. In the half hour we stood by the enclosure, completely in awe of these gorgeous creatures, they attempted to climb trees that were beyond their abilities, fall out, push each other off platforms and fall asleep in the most awkward positions. It was unbelievably cute – we felt very lucky to be able to watch them so closely!
The Research Base was starting to get busy around 11AM, when our walking tour came to a finish. We highly recommend visiting first thing in the morning, before it gets busy. We took a tour offered by our hostel, which was essentially a drop off and pick up and a guide that walked us through the enclosures. We did this for ease – not wanting to worry about buses or taxis, but on the day we did feel quite rushed – and easily could have stayed for hours more at every enclosure watching all the pandas. A tour is not worth it, as any taxi driver knows the centre and public buses are also available. Make a trip out yourself, and spend as long as you like watching China’s cute and cuddly icon – the Giant Panda – up close!
- How do I get to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base?
As mentioned above, a tour is not necessary and will rush your experience too much. You can take a taxi to the centre, or any of the public buses that are listed in the Lonely Planet China guide.