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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Panda he eats Bamboo

Day 728

Who doesn't love Giant Pandas? They are such adorable creatures with their big patched eyes, cute round faces and thick cuddly fur. Today we saw many at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Yes, they really are adorable.

For my 2nd birthday, I was given my treasured Panda Bear. I still have it, carefully packed away in a box. And when our eldest son George was little, my sister Dawn gave him a book about a Panda from her trip to China. I remember the two of us making up a song “Panda; he eats bamboo, then he does a nice big poo.” I can’t remember the second verse. I think it was a bit better than the first!

And today we went to see Pandas, the real thing. We visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding which in 1987 was initially set up to care for six poorly Giant Pandas. Since then it has bred and cared for a few hundred Giant Pandas and is now scientific research, conservation and breeding base for these cuddly and rare animals.

According to China Daily, last year there were 548 Pandas in captivity across the world of which over half of these were in China’s Conservation and Research Centre bases; 184 of these were at the Chengdu Panda Base.

We got there early as the morning is when the Pandas are more active. In the afternoon they have a long nap, which isn’t so exciting to see.

Our first port of call was supposed to be the Moonlight Nursery House for Giant Pandas, but we got a bit lost and ended up watching the Red Pandas being fed. I am sure that George Lucas based the Ewoks on the Red Pandas. Can you see the similarity, or is it just me?

Apart from the name, the Red and the Giant Pandas are unrelated. They do both eat bamboo, but the Giant Pandas enjoy munching on the cane whereas the Red Pandas feast on the leaves.

At last, we reached the Moonlight Nursery, the farthest point from the entrance. This area is for new-born cubs to 5-year-olds as well as some adult Giant Pandas. In front of each enclosure was a sign with details of the Panda, for example, we saw Yuan Lin, a male born on 15th August 2010. He is small-eyed with an oval face. He has a gift in language and even once made a sound of “ouch, ouch” like a human does. When angry, he behaves impatient, just like human babies. We love reading the descriptions.

We saw two balls of fur having a play-fight on a wooden apparatus. One of them fell off but quickly climbed the steps for some more tussling. It reminded me of our boys when they were little.

Inside the Nursery, we queued up (about the only time I have seen a queue being adhered to) and there in the first room was Liuliu, born on 11th October at 131.4g, son to Xiaoyatou, and twin to Shunshun, who was probably with his Mum. What a sweetie!

Giant Pandas have twins about 50% of the time and often abandon one of them. Here in the base, the researchers care for the deserted baby and even switch the cubs from time to time, so the mum unwittingly cares for both.

In the next room was A Bao, a female cub born on 6th July 2019 weighing a reasonable 209g, just over 7 ounces. She will grow to approx. 85 kg when she is an adult – that’s a lot of bamboo to eat! I did feel sorry for her all alone in the wooden pen. Where were her toys?

As we left the Nursery, we sat down to work out where to visit next. There was a group of men who had travelled from a small town halfway to Beijing. They insisted on having their photos with us one by one, and later I had a group of ladies rushing up to have their picture taken with me. A tiny taster of what it must be like to be famous – no thank you, it’s overrated.

I must admit, I had to take a photo of the young lady with her Panda hat and slippers on. So many of the girls were adorned with Panda themed attire.

Next was No.1 and No. 2 House for Giant Pandas. They really are such a delightful animal. It’s all in the eyes, with their dark patches making their eyes look big, like babies, and how they sit and eat is adorable. As we walked nearer to each section, we knew precisely where the Pandas were – just follow the crowd!

We found ourselves along paths wiggling through the Red Panda playground. We stopped to count how many photos we’d both taken of Pandas, and as I got to 40 (I took well over 100), Tim instructed me to look down.

There, walking over my feet, was a Red Panda! It had found a gap in the netting and decided to join us. It carried on strolling along the path, eventually returning to the hole to disappear under the track before the paparazzi descended on it.

On the east side of the complex is Swan Lake, we wandered there, watching the birds and stopped at a slightly upmarket café for an expensive coffee. On TV was a documentary about the Chengdu Research Base and who should be commentating but our cherished British icon, David Attenborough.

We sat and learnt about the innovative scientific research effort to breed these wonderful creatures, including artificial insemination. There are several problems that need to overcome; in captivity the males' loose interest in sex, the scientists have even resorted to using Panda porn to get them excited. The females only ovulate once a year, so a tiny window of 72 hours for the scientist to get the right male match in place, and even then, it seems the male has difficulty knowing what to do with his rather small penis. It’s a wonder this species has survived!

We also learnt that this whole multimillion-pound research is needed because so much of the Pandas’ natural habitat has been destroyed, hence significantly reducing the numbers to less than 2,000 bears in the wild. This all seems back to front. Care for the land, and there wouldn’t be the need for a captive panda breeding programme. Or have I missed something?

At least this place has enabled many other visitors and us to see these fabulous animals and to learn more about them.

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