At WWF, it should come as no surprise that we take pandas seriously. Their image has been synonymous with our organization since its inception in 1961. They’re also endangered—threatened by forest destruction and hunting.
When we visit China with NatHab, we experience the culture to be sure, but giant pandas are the focus. That’s why we don’t just visit one panda base, we visit three, and thanks to special permits, our travelers have the rare opportunity to look for pandas in the wild, too.
Chengdu Panda Base: Founded in 1987 amidst a bamboo die off that left hundreds of wild pandas dead, Chengdu Panda Base has gone from a population of six pandas to about 100 today. If you’ve ever seen a YouTube video of fluffy cubs climbing over one another or toddlers whizzing down slides, it likely came from here. The panda base is located just a few miles outside the city of Chengdu and houses an important research facility and conservation education center. The pandas live in a manmade environment that simulates their natural habitat with rivers, lakes, wild bamboo forests, dens and caves. Along with observing adults eating, sleeping and playing with enrichment toys, visitors may have the unforgettable opportunity to see infants in the nursery and mothers interacting with their cubs. Other species, including the red panda, are also commonly seen at the base.
Dujiangyan Panda Base: In 2013, 10 injured giant pandas arrived at the brand-new Dujiangyan facility. Unlike Chengdu, relatively few visitors come here, which allows for more intimate viewing. In fact, the pandas themselves haven’t yet become accustomed to visitors and appear to enjoy the attention from their fans. Set in a remote area about 40 miles from Chengdu, the base focuses on rescue, disease control and rehabilitation of injured and ill wild pandas. Chosen pandas at the base also participate in the new wilderness and release training in hopes that they’ll eventually be reintroduced into the wild.
Bifengxia Panda Base: Bifenxia was created in 2003 in response to overcrowding at the well-known Wolong Panda Center. After the 2008 earthquake, 40 pandas from Wolong were relocated to Bifenxia. The location is relatively remote, and the giant pandas live in an untouched natural forest; their ideal native habitat and a beautiful place to visit in its own right. Many of the base’s pandas are either not yet ready for the breeding program or are too old for reproduction. For an additional donation, there are often opportunities to enter enclosures and interact with pandas, including cubs.
Wild Panda Nature Reserve: Explorations of this 100,000-acre sanctuary offers visitors the rare opportunity to look for pandas in the wild. About 60 of the world’s 1,600 wild pandas reside in the reserve’s dense forests, and though chances of spotting them are relatively slim, they are by no means the only draw for wildlife lovers. There are 430 mammal species found here—Tibetan and Rhesus macaques, golden and Sichuan takin, red pandas, civets, leopard cats and endangered moon bears among them—along with more than 150 bird species.
By Marsea Nelson, WWF guest blogger