Today we are up early to go to visit the Giant Pandas. We will be leaving Chengdu in the afternoon, so we have to have our luggage out for 7 a.m.The best time to visit the pandas is in the morning when they are most active, so we set out early to go to the Chengdu Research Base. The base is about a 45 minute drive from our hotel. The grounds are inviting and we join our local guide to start our tour. We pass through a bamboo path over some uneven rock paths to find the pandas in their outdoor enclosure. There are about six pandas, eating and relaxing. The only other panda I have seen was in 1988 when they had pandas visiting the Calgary zoo. Although I paid to have “breakfast” with the pandas, the sole panda I saw was fast asleep. Here they are quite active and roaming around. Our guide was very good at providing information about the pandas and we are aware of how privileged we are to be so close to so many of them.
The giant panda has an insatiable appetite for bamboo and typically eats half the day—a full 12 out of every 24 hours—and relieves itself dozens of times a day. It takes 28 pounds (12.5 kilograms) of bamboo to satisfy a giant panda’s daily dietary needs, and it adeptly plucks the stalks with elongated wrist bones that function rather like thumbs. We were told a strictly bamboo diet is poor in nutrition so the staff supplement their diets.
Wild pandas live only in remote, mountainous regions in central China. There is a disagreement with how many continue living in the wild, but they think it’s around 1500 and they remain on the endangered list.
Pandas are fun to watch eating as they eat in a relaxed sitting position, with their hind legs stretched out before them. They appear sedentary, but they are skilled tree-climbers and efficient swimmers. We did see them climb into the trees, but we didn’t see any swimming. As we continued to tour the reserve we come across other groups of pandas and get to see some young ones( I’m guessing perhaps 1 to 2 years old.) They are so cute. As with every tour, we have a good selection of vendors for our souvenirs. We are told all the kiosks here are owned by the reserve and all profits go back into panda research and development. I bought a panda shirt and a pair of earrings, and a small stuffed panda for our dog Molly.
Giant pandas are solitary. They have a highly developed sense of smell that males use to avoid each other and to find females for mating in the spring. After a five-month pregnancy, females give birth to a cub or two, though they cannot care for both twins. The blind infants weigh only 5 ounces (142 grams) at birth and cannot crawl until they reach three months of age. They are born white, and develop their coloring later.
In one of the tour books I read where you can have a “panda” experience. The book put the price at $200(US), but our guide Michael tells us it’s now about $600. I had thought about it at the $200 price but everyone in our group gave it a pass at the $600 price. For your money you get to feed a panda, interact with it a bit, hold it ( briefly) while getting your photo taken. The staff are very particular about the participants health and if you have a cold or are not well, you will not be allowed to participate. Also if the panda seems not up to snuff, they will cancel the visit.In addition to the Giant Pandas, the base is also home to the red panda as well. The red panda is not a panda at all, but more closely related to our raccoon. The are very cute and especially playful.
After our visit with the pandas we went for lunch and then on to the airport. Once again our gate is at the far end of the terminal and our plane once again is an hour late.
We have been enjoying the warm weather but when we land in Xian the outside temperature is 6 C. To make things worse, the airport is so busy we land and deplane on the tarmac, then board a bus to take us to the terminal. As it was already dinner, we ate at the airport. The portions were small and the food so so. Our hotel is the Days Inn and the poorest of all of our accommodations. The room is small and dimly lit and you need a flashlight to find anything in your suitcase.