Having lived in DC for nearly a decade we were pretty spoiled when it came to a zoo. The National Zoo, free and easily accessible by public transportation, was an easy weekend (even weekday) get away in the city and to top it off, it had two adult giant pandas and their baby cub, Tai Shan. When little Tai Shan was born in 2005, the city went crazy and a 24 hr panda webcam was set up in his enclosure so you could watch every breathtakingly exciting minute of this first few weeks. Except that giant panda’s frankly, while cute, aren’t that interesting. They mostly just lay around and eat bamboo. I hardly ever saw the giant pandas at the national zoo run about, climb a tree or anything remotely that active.
Then we arrived at Chengdu National Giant Panda Breeding Center in China. Let’s just say it was a different story. We arrived at 8am during the morning feeding time and these guys were moving. Climbing trees, exploring their enclosures, destroying bamboo as if the Chinese government had contracted them to clear the land for a new Olympic stadium…all in the name of breakfast. Each and every panda we saw was alert, active and reminiscent of our giant panda’s on steroids. We saw two climb up trees, where one promptly fell asleep. Typical!
The Chengdu National Breeding Center is remarkably successful at panda breeding and we actually saw four panda cubs in the center’s “nursery.” That certainly puts the national zoo to shame. Besides an adorable nursery of baby panda’s the center also has a dozen enclosures of other giant pandas as well as two for the less endangered red panda.
Besides the Giant Panda Center near Chengdu there is also Wolong Giant Panda Reserve, about 2.5 hours away. In February 2009, Tai Shan was moved from Washington, DC to Wolong, and although we toyed with the idea of paying him a visit, we didn’t get around to it. He’s quite a celebrity in China, Wolong maintains Tai Shan’s “blog” about his daily life and there are articles about his move, the trainers teaching him Chinese and how much the American people miss him. Unfortunately we can’t seem to link to the page outside of China, but if you do a search you might find it! He may lay around all day for all I know, but it looks like he’s in good hands!
IF YOU GO: Although most hostels have tours (89-99rmb per person), we took a taxi one way to the center (about 30rmb from downtown) and took bus 902 (2rmb) back to town. The entrance fee is 58rmb (no student discount) and its highly advisable to get there before the morning feeding (usually around 9:30) when they are the most active. By the time we left around 10:15 am, they were already noticeably sleepier. The center opens at 7 am and was pretty busy by 9am. The earlier you arrive the better.