The giant panda is native to central-western and south-western China and is one of the most instantly recognizable creatures in the world. In China images of this black-and-white bear permeate almost every aspect of life and pandas oftentimes are used as goodwill ambassadors.
Yet these days this racoon-like bear is facing extinction due to rampant poaching. China’s populace devours almost anything on four legs and ‘herbal’ remedies utilising exotic creatures are widespread, so it’s unsurprising that the pandas face overwhelming danger from both man and natural causes.
Thus with global interest resolute on the panda’s continued existence, the Chinese government has set up panda reserves in the south-west of the country, initiated captive breeding programmes and even offered rewards to citizens who aid these lovable mammals. The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries are the abode of more than 30% of the planet's endangered pandas. Sprawling across 924,500 hectares, they constitute the largest remaining habitat of the giant panda.
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
The China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) is located in the Wolong Nature Reserve. The Wolong Nature Reserve is worth mentioning due to its efforts in panda protection. Located 140 kilometres north-west of Chengdu, it was formerly China’s principal panda preservation centre.
The Bufengxia Panda Base – located within the Wolong Nature Reserve – was established in 2003 under the direction of the Giant Panda Research Centre after the reserve suffered extensive damage due to the 2008 earthquake. The reserve spans a deep gorge and encompasses a zoo, park and the panda enclosure.
The large mammals are housed in concrete enclosures that open onto large outdoor spaces; there’s even an on-site panda nursery and visitors can watch the pandas or take a leisurely stroll across the vast open grounds.
Panda Conservation History
The seemingly cute and cuddly panda is a solitary creature native to the cool climates of central-western and south-western China. It remains one of the best known goodwill ambassadors for China and permeates almost every facet of life here while images of this furry animal are seen on many souvenirs.
Even though it may firmly belong to the bear family, the panda’s appetite is decidedly herbivorous and its preferred diet is a staple of bamboo. In fact bamboo is poor food for a large, warm-blooded animal and even though it grows in abundance along the damp, chilly mountains of south-west China, the panda has, on occasion, starved due to bamboo’s propensity to die en masse every 25 years or so.
Qualifying for the highly endangered animals list has caused world attention to focus on the conservation of these gentle beasts; the Chinese government has set up numerous initiatives including setting up reserves in Sichuan Province and has instigated confined procreation programmes. Penalties for poaching these lovable giants have become harsher and peasants are highly rewarded for saving them.
The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries are the best way to get a glimpse of these gentle beasts; China is the best place to see them, since it is home to more than 30% of the world's pandas. These sanctuaries – spanning over 924,500 hectares – make up the largest remaining habitat of the giant panda.
Highlights and Features
- Bifengxia Panda Base: This conservation centre is located within the Wolong Nature Reserve.
- Giant Panda Breeding Research Base: This is one of China’s most popular tourist attractions – the best way to tour this centre is to engage a tour operator as the bus service is erratic.
- Wolong Nature Reserve: This nature reserve was shut down for recovery efforts after the 2008 earthquake but has recently reopened.
Good to Know and What Not to Miss
- Plan a trip during winter if you want to catch a glimpse of the pandas in the wild – it’s easier to track them during this time.
- March to May is the ‘falling in love’ period when the pandas are encouraged to procreate; therefore during the autumn or winter is when the nursery may have newborns.
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
- Opening Hours: Bifengxia Panda Base 08:30 – 18:00 daily
Giant Panda Breeding Research Base 08:00 – 18:00 daily
- Price Range: Bifengxia Panda Base Entrance fee: CNY 80
Giant Panda Breeding Research Base Entrance fee: CNY 58
- How to get there: Bifengxia is north of Ya an and buses leave Chengdu’s Xinnanmen station to Ya an every 35 minutes; in Ya an proceed to the new Travel Bus Station where you can catch a minibus to Bifengxia – the journey will take approximately 25 minutes. To get to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, take bus 902 from Chengdu’s Xiannanmen bus station.