A short post to explain how to go and see pandas nearby Chengdu, in the Sichuan province, and some extra considerations about these breeding centres.
One of the most known facts about Chengdu and the whole Sichuan province is that it is possible to see pandas. The most frequented place is probably the Chengdu giant pandas breeding centre (actually in Dujiangyan), which is reachable by metro from the town. However, it is not the only way to see pandas.
I have seen Pandas in the Wolong breeding centre, in the natural area which carries the same name. This is located halfway between Chengdu and Danba, up in the mountains in the West of the Sichuan province.
If by any chance you are travelling to or from that area, then it might be easier and cheaper to see the pandas there. The entry cost 90 Yuan, about €10, while from Chengdu tour operators, hostels and hotels might charge much more to go and see the pandas.
Yet another way is to go visit Bifenxia panda centre, reachable on the main road that goes from Chengdu towards the western high plateaus in a couple of hours by bus. The only difference is that this one is situated a little more south compared to Wolong, and the road is nicer. The two centres are managed by the same entity.
I can’t compare breeding centres as I have visited only one, and I will not go visit others. However, here are some extra thoughts about this experience.
I have never liked zoos. It really goes against my principles to see animals in a cage. I would rather go and have a quick glance of them in nature, even if it takes days and efforts.
These breeding centres are not zoos, the Pandas have a lot of space, and they are treated like kings. They are, after all, one of the Chinese national treasures and a symbol of the country. There are only about 1,800 pandas left in the wild.
The population was much lower until 1980. It has been growing since these centres have been active and burning millions in trying to save the species from extinction. So, I acknowledge the usefulness and the importance of the mission of such places, part of which is trying to re-populate the natural reserves with pandas.
And yet, as long as I am concerned, something was off. I am always excited when I see wildlife, especially if it is a first, but there, for some reasons, I was not. The feeling I had was just the same as seeing animals in a zoo.
The pandas were there for display, with hordes of noisy, overexcited tourists and their impolite kids amassing against the fence to snap a photo, making uoooohhh noises at every panda’s small move, and screaming or clapping hands to try and make them move (obviously unsuccessfully).
Food was given to the panda outside their hideout so that they would come out and show themselves, all for the show. At one point young pandas were lined up for a snack, one close to the other in a very panda-ish position. So cute, right?
In several occasions, especially the adult pandas were so annoyed by the crowd they escaped immediately back into their little hideout, the only place where they could have some privacy. Who could blame them?
The whole feeling of excitement I normally get when I observe an animal in its natural environment, in silence, as stealth as possible, as an alien visitor should be, was completely gone. I was annoyed, and I made the visit really quick.
I would have loved to go on an expedition, for three, four, five days, a week into the forest, and try and see a panda in its environment, without human beings, even if just for a split of a second. It would have been more rewarding. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for them, I do not think this is possible. I haven’t found out how in any case.
What’s left is education. I do understand that the entrance to the breeding centre by those zillion tourists pays for costs and research, and somehow helps. But at least there should be some control over the flow, and people should be educated, silent, and probably farther away from the poor animals.
So, mixed feelings for this experience for me. I wanted to see pandas, so I went for it, I saw them and they are cute and all, but the whole experience was somehow disappointing. I guess these are not things for me.
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