While in the capital of Sichuan province I’m all to easily and swiftly seduced by utterly adorable creatures.
A few kilometres from town is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – more simply known as Chengdu Panda Base. This is the best place in the world to get up close to these cute and cuddly-looking bamboo munchers. Cough up a couple of hundred dollars and you can even have big black and white squat momentarily on your lap for a prized photo.
Giant pandas are an endangered species. They’re only found in remote areas of the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu and current estimates suggest between 1600 and 2000 exist in the wild. Approximately another 300 giant pandas live in captivity in China and in zoos in various other countries.
Chengdu Panda Base is the number one attraction for millions of domestic and foreign tourists who visit Sichuan each year and it’s easy to see why. Apart from seeing more giant pandas here than you can anywhere else the base is also home to red pandas. These creatures are also fascinating but they simply don’t have the pulling power of the tubby species.
The Chengdu pandas inhabit spacious, forested enclosures set within a large landscaped park. Dense groves of shady bamboo form natural arbours shading the winding paths between the enclosures. The prospect of seeing pandas up close while also enjoying cool, shady escape from the noisy streets of the city is what makes the Panda Base such an irresistible drawcard.
While here I see a new arrival, a female cub born to the panda called Yuan Yuan. Lying in an incubator, the tiny, pink, hairless, blind creature looks nothing like the magnificent animal and national treasure it will become. But it’s the latest triumph in the ongoing program to secure the pandas’ future. Chengdu has already made its first steps in returning artificially-bred pandas into the wild.