This past weekend Naomi and I flew with a friend to Chengdu, in Sichuan Province. I’ve been saying that we should really see more of China while we’re here (we tend to leave China when it’s vacation time), but really, this trip was all about the pandas.
Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. So following our 11pm arrival at our hotel we woke up early Saturday morning to drive to the base to see the pandas. The base itself was beautiful. It was forested and it smelled like nature – something none of us had experienced in quite a while!
We hightailed it to the panda nursery where it’s possible – for a generous donation - to hold a panda cub. Unfortunately when we got there we were told that all of the “Panda Keeper Experience” slots were sold out for the day, and we would have to return in the morning. They were, however, shockingly helpful, even writing us a letter that would allow us free admission to the Base the following day. We didn’t even have to ask or complain, like we usually do here. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t see the pandas that day, but decided to see as much as we could of the base that morning, so we could just stick with the panda holding the following day.
So we wandered around and saw these guys:
Before we got to the Base I commented that I would be OK skipping the red pandas if we ran short on time, because they’re not even pandas and who cares? But we managed to see them and I had to apologize individually to each and every one because they were so stinking cute!
Well, about half an hour after we were turned away for the panda holding my friend got a call that they had an opening and we could see the pandas in half an hour! So we raced to the nursery where we attended a short class about pandas. We learned that:
- 8 million years ago they were carnivores, but when there was no meat during the Ice Ages they adapted to become primarily vegetarians. But . . .
- . . . they apparently stopped evolving at that point because they are only able to digest 20% of the bamboo they eat . . . AND . . .
- the Panda Keepers have to teach the males how to stand on their hind legs SO THEY CAN LEARN HOW TO MATE. These are not bright creatures, apparently , and the fact that they’ve survived this long – even with massive human intervention – is mind-boggling.
But I digress. Because they have to eat 70kg of bamboo a day, and because they only like it when it’s wet, the Panda Keepers have to water it down.
Interwebs, meet Naomi the Panda Keeper:
Don’t be fooled. the best part of being a Panda Keeper isn’t watering the bamboo, or teaching the males how to mate. It is, hands down, PETTING THE PANDAS!
So yeah, the panda visit was pretty much the coolest thing ever.
In the afternoon we wandered around Chengdu’s Wuhou Temple, which was peaceful and lovely:
And now my Internet is about to crap out, so I need to post this! There are a ton of pictures on my Facebook page and at https://quartcourt.shutterfly.com/pictures/728!