Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Qingming 2.0: Complete Panda-monium

Before and during my time in China, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do on this side of the world before moving to our next destination.  One of the items on my list was to hug a panda.  Chris and I did a little research, and heard through the grapevine that one could hold a panda at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding for a donation. So for this year’s Qingming holiday, we planned a trip to Chengdu, China so I could hug a baby panda. 

When we first arrived at the panda sanctuary around 8:15, there were very few people around the entrance much to my surprise.  I thought the park was closed until we saw other tourists enter.  
After Chris purchased entry tickets (58 RMB/ 10 USD), we jumped on a tram inside the park and headed to the panda nursery so I could get my snuggles.  Fortunately, our hotel had made a reservation for our meet and greet so we wouldn’t have to wait in a long line to make a reservation.   (Bookings go quickly, so I highly recommend anyone interested in the experience book tickets in advance.)

When we arrived at the nursery, we learned that we wouldn’t be able to hold the pandas for another hour, so we spent some time checking out some of the sanctuary’s other residents.

There are currently 76 Red Pandas living in the sanctuary.

Red Pandas have a reputation of being a wee bit naughty and aggressive.  These two bears were tumbling all over.

When I first saw these pandas, I thought they were foxes. 

Many Red Pandas love snoozing in the trees.  I don’t know how that can be comfortable.

After our time with the Red Pandas, we headed back to the nursery to make our obligatory monetary donation and prepared for the main event.

We learned that we would need to wait 45 more minutes, so we checked out the baby Giant Pandas in the nursery.

Most panda babies in the sanctuary are born between August and October, so the cubs in the nursery were between seven and nine months old.  At this stage many cubs spend their days learning to climb and tumbling around their playground.

This little guy loved hanging on…and out!

Many of the cubs had spectators cheering them on as they scaled the trees.

This log smelled fun!

This little guy called down to his friend to join him in the tree.

He’s almost there.
Okay, now that we're up here what do we do?

The mother pandas also have their own pens in the nursery.

This momma cracked me up.  She buried herself in bamboo and enjoyed her breakfast.  Adult pandas eat around 50 kg (100 lbs.) of bamboo daily.

After milling around the pens for 40 minutes, it was time for the main event!  The cuddle experience started after a brief talk about the baby Pandas’ first few months on Earth.  We then suited up and learned how the event would transpire.

Chris geared up for cuddle time.  Humans had to wear plastic gloves and surgical gowns to prevent infecting pandas with human diseases. 

I was so excited to hold eight month old San!  To keep San happy, her handlers kept feeding her honey dipped bamboo sticks. 

San was 15kg (30 lbs.)  of furry panda!  Her fur reminded me of soft wire.  I was very careful not to touch her ears.  (Pandas don’t like ear rubs.)

When cuddle time was almost over, Chris sat down and we snapped a family portrait.  I wished I could take San with us, but I thought the dogs would have had an issue with another creature in our house.

Chris also had a nice snuggle with San.

In return for our donation to the Panda Sanctuary, we got a cool swag bag! 

After cuddle time, we hiked around the remainder of the research base to check out some of the other Giant Pandas.

This panda, Yun Zi, was born in San Diego and then shipped to the base.  China has a panda leasing program that loans pandas to foreign zoos.  As part of that agreement, all cubs that are born outside of China must be returned.  Since Yun Zi learned English as his first language, he had to learn Chinese commands after he arrived in Chengdu.  The guides claim that Yun Zi is a bilingual panda!!  For more on Yun Zi’s story, click here.

Since pandas only absorb about 20% of the nutrients they need from bamboo, their diets are supplemented with panda cookies that contain corn, oats, and soybeans.  This big guy loved playing with his cookie

Many of the pandas loved hanging upside down.
This guy had a great time while hanging in there! 

After all of the excitement of the morning, I felt like this guy.  However, we had other sites to see after the park.  So we boarded our tram and headed back to the front of the park so we could continue exploring Chengdu.

Word to the wise: if you plan on touring the base, start early.  When we left the park around 1:30, the line to enter was farther than the eye could see. 
A visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was definitely worth the trip!  I highly recommend it for panda lovers of all ages. 

For more information on the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, check out their home page.  Happy snuggles!