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Kohl rimmed eyes, an inky nose and circular black ears stand stark upon the cutest of fluffy white faces. And, despite their propensity to weigh up to a bulky 23kg, they really are much like a living, breathing cuddly toy. Yes, we’re talking pandas. They’ve been the world-renowned face of WWF since its beginnings in 1961 and were cleverly used as a loveable mascot for the Beijing Olympics. So basically, it’s safe to say that pandas are a sure fire way of getting people on board with a cause. One look at those fuzzy faces and you can’t help but be sold. Come on though, quite seriously: did you ever see anything so adorable?
If pandas are what you’re after, then it’s pandas that you’ll get at Chengdu’s Panda Base. Founded in 1987 – when it housed just six giant pandas – this conservation centre now houses around 20 times its original number of giant pandas and nearly 80 of their red counterparts, making it one of the largest panda reserves in the world. And as a non-profit research and breeding facility, a trip here is the best way to view China’s most endearing residents without visiting the suffocating confines of a zoo. Because really, it’s the 21st century, zoos just aren’t cool anymore.
Free to roam over 600 acres of parkland that imitate their natural habitat, these pandas get to live out their lives in a novelty-free zone, whilst being sheltered from the threats that come alongside surviving in the wild. With fewer than 2,000 pandas now left in the world, they’re classified as a vulnerable species, meaning that it’s more important than ever to do all that we can to protect them. But more than just protecting the pandas already here, Chengdu’s Panda Base is also home to an artificial insemination breeding centre with the hopes of upping the species numbers.
So, from priming the public to their greatness and protecting them from habitat destruction to some good ol’ fashioned procreation planning, the Panda Base have got one thing on the brain. And we think that you can guess what it is. Yep, pandas really are at the heart and soul of everything done here – which is precisely why we’re such big fans. But really, who isn’t a fan of baby pandas?
It goes without saying that the pandas are the stars of the show. But you will in fact spot some other wildlife whilst you’re here too. From black swans to peacocks, the birdlife is quite spectacular, and thanks to the rich flora, you’ll come across a whole array of unique insects. Talking of flora, you’ll find bamboo by the bucket-load. Because who doesn’t love a stereotype.
For the real attraction, you’ll need to get up early. If anything’s worth getting out of bed for it’s pandas, right? Feeding is at around 8am and as the morning is the coolest time of day, it’s also when the pandas are the most lively – they’ll be snoozing by midday, because you know, it’s a hard life.
And for when they have taken themselves to bed, not to worry because there’s still plenty to see here. The giant panda museum is the only museum of its kind in the whole world. Focusing entirely on the giant panda, from habitat exhibits to fossils, you’ll leave here rich with panda knowledge, that’s for sure.
And, if you’re really lucky, you may even get to experience the cream of the cuteness crop. Newborn pandas, duh. Usually born in August, the baby pandas can be seen for the first weeks of their lives in the specially designated nurseries. And, as if seeing the little pink-nosed cuties wasn’t enough, you can even take pictures of them – as long as no flash is used of course.
With 70% of the world’s panda population residing in the Sichuan province and a substantial amount of those numbers protected by the Chengdu Panda Base, you’re definitely in the right place if these rare bears are on your bucket-list.
A northern suburb of Chengdu.
Whatever you feel most comfortable in, but monochrome chic would be fitting for a day spent with pandas.
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