Peering at Pandas in Chengdu, China

I suppose I could have gone to my local zoo and seen pandas there, but it’s not the same as actually seeing them in their native habitat, or at least, their native country. So Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center was on my list of must-sees.

But my first sight of the creature was a bit of a disappointment: the panda in the first enclosure wasn’t in the least bit interested in me. There she sat, high up in the branches of a tree, sound asleep and nothing was going to wake her. She was obviously enjoying a post-lunch nap after a busy morning munching her way through part of her daily 15 kg (33 lbs) quota of bamboo. A panda’s diet is so poor in nutrition that they have to eat vast quantities of it in order to survive.

Having a well-earned nap (Ann Burnett)

Having a well-earned nap (Ann Burnett)

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Pandas are on the most endangered list and could well disappear altogether.
  • They are an iconic symbol of China and its reconnection with the West.
  • Good for families, animal lovers and tourists.

So we left her to it and wandered along paths lined with gingko and magnolia trees and several types of bamboo to the next enclosure. This was much better. A trio of young, half-grown pandas were play-fighting, pushing each other off the bamboo platform and into the ditch separating animals from spectators. It was almost as if they knew they were being watched, and put on a show especially for the crowd which gathered. The pandas’ bursts of speed impressed me, as I’d always thought of them as slow and bumbling.

Young pandas pose for the cameras (Ann Burnett)

Young pandas pose for the cameras (Ann Burnett)

Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center

Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center is situated about six miles north of Chengdu itself and covers 92 acres of lush bamboo woodland in which the panda enclosures are situated. It is the most successful breeding center of captive pandas in the world with over 100 pandas in residence. Its aim is to eventually return some of them to the wild when conditions are suitable. At present, it is estimated that there are only about 1000 wild pandas left, in pockets of bamboo woodland in the western highlands of China. The ever-growing human population has destroyed much of their habitat and now attempts are being made to plant corridors of bamboo linking the various known sites where pandas are still to be found.

Breeding Pandas

Next on the agenda: a movie about panda breeding. It gave almost too much detailed information about the difficulties pandas encounter when attempting to reproduce — such as the female only being in heat for 36 hours in a year. Or the male panda performing handstands in order to place his scent as high up on a tree trunk as possible. That I would have liked to have seen but alas, it wasn’t springtime. Anyhow, most fertilization of females is now done by artificial insemination. Females give birth to a tiny, helpless infant who stays with the mother for around 18 months; it will be two years before she becomes pregnant again. No wonder there are so few of them left in the wild.

We watched the young pandas again in their enclosure. They were still performing for their audience, as if they knew that their black-furred eyes and ears were their best features. Cameras clicked as they posed, nibbling a bamboo shoot or stretching luxuriously in the sunshine.

The Panda Nursery

A baby panda in an incubator (Ann Burnett)

A baby panda in an incubator (Ann Burnett)

Our last stop was the panda nursery where baby pandas are reared in incubators just like premature babies. These little creatures were either one of twins (the mother would only normally raise one and leave the other to die) or those abandoned by their mothers. The ‘aw’ factor was there in spades. I wanted to spend ages just peering through the window at these tiny pandas concentrating their energies in growing big and strong, but we were hurried along by the warden.

As we headed back to the exit, we passed that solitary female, still asleep in the tree. She wasn’t going to waste any of that hard-earned energy for anyone, least of all me.


  • The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center is only 6 miles from the city center and buses run there frequently. Alternatively, a taxi is relatively cheap.
  • The best time to see the pandas is in the morning when they are most active and being fed.
  • There is a park train which carries visitors around the site but it is very pleasant to walk amongst the trees and bamboo.


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  1. Barbara Radcliffe Rogers says

    Here’s a place that’s really on my Bucket List, and even higer on it now that I’ve read your article!


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