CHENGDU PANDA TOUR:
What Panda Bases Available in and around Chengdu
If you are traveling to Chengdu in Sichuan Province for your holiday, then there is no better thing to do than plan a Chengdu panda tour to visit the giant pandas that are indigenous to the region. One of the rarest animals in the world, the giant pandas were once close to extinction due to deforestation and construction that destroyed a large part of their natural habitat in the areas around Chengdu in Sichuan, as well as small areas in Gansu Province and Shaanxi Province.
This native Chinese bear has been featured throughout history in China, as both Imperial pets and auspicious animals that only appear during the reign of a benevolent emperor. The giant panda is found mostly in Sichuan Province, where it lives wild in the mountain ranges to the north and west of the city. With only around 1,500 giant pandas living in the wild in China, preservation of the beautiful monochrome-colored bear is of utmost importance, and there are several panda research and breeding centers in Sichuan Province that are dedicated to preserving this beautiful creature from extinction.
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Chengdu Panda Base
The first research base for giant pandas, the official name is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, though it is most commonly known as the Chengdu Panda Base. The center was opened in 1987, starting with six giant pandas that had been rescued from the wild after logging in their habitat killed off dozens of the rare creatures. Within 20 years, the center had managed to successfully bread 124 giant panda cubs, despite the pandas not being easy to breed.
The center is located in the northeast of Chengdu, around ten kilometers from the city center, at the base of Futou Mountain. One of the best ways to visit the Chengdu Panda Base is on one of our tours, as the site is vast and it is easy to get lost. The center sees more than 3.5 million travelers a year pass through its gates, and those numbers are constantly increasing, As the most popular panda center in China, it is undoubtedly the best place to go to see these stunning creatures, although it does look a little more like a zoo than a natural habitat center.
However, while the enclosures are not as large as in some of the other centers in Sichuan, the pandas do have a lot of room to live freely within the habitats, and while they are there for breeding and research, the young are often sent to other centers to be rehabilitated into the wild once they are old enough.
Handling the pandas was a popular activity in the past years, although this is no longer available at the center due to contact with humans causing the pandas to get ill. That does not mean it is not worth seeing though, as there are plenty of opportunities to view the pandas in their habitats, and many of the older animals, which have been there for many years now, are so used to people that they often come out, drawn by the crowds of people that are there to see them.
Wolong Panda Base
The Shenshuping Panda Base at Wolong is around 150 kilometers from Chengdu, and was built to replace the former Wolong panda base at Hetaoping, which was too small. While smaller in area than Bifengxia, it has the world’s largest breeding center for giant pandas, and is one of the main scientific study sites for the animals. The site is only open from April to November, and is located in Gengda Township, in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan.
The center holds around 60 percent of the world’s giant panda population in 59 different enclosures where the pandas live and roam in their natural habitat. The site is located in the area of one of the giant panda’s natural ranges in Sichuan Province, which makes the landscape and flora ideal for the care and breeding of the pandas. The center offers several activities for visitors, including day keeper programs and educational programs that teach visitors about the history and care of the giant pandas. The center is completely self-sustaining for the pandas, and was sponsored by the government of the Hong Kong SAR after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 severely damaged the site at Hetaoping.
The panda center is actually part of a much larger nature reserve that has more than 4,000 different species of animals inside its boundaries, which covered around 20,000 hectares in total when it was built. The nature reserve was opened in 1963, in the Qionglai Mountains in Wenchuan County of Sichuan Province, and has since been extended to include the panda’s natural habitat, now covering around 200,000 hectares.
The reserve is primarily a panda breeding and research center now, though it does have large populations of snow leopards, red pandas, golden monkeys, and white-lipped deer, the main type of deer found on the Tibetan plateau. As of this time, it is estimated that around 150 giant pandas also live inside the reserve, running wild in the hills and mountains.
Dujiangyan Panda Base
Located in the Shiqiao Village of Qingchenshan Town, the Dujiangyan Panda Base is also the Center for Disease Control in southwest China. The center lies around 55 kilometers to the northwest of Chengdu, close to the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project, the world’s oldest water diversion program that does not have a dam.
While there are not a huge number of pandas in the center, mostly catering to conservation of the smaller red panda, the center does have a great reputation for caring for these lovely creatures, and has a lot of activities for its visitors. As well as being able to tour the center and learn about the history and rarity of the giant panda, and what the centers are currently doing to bring these beautiful creatures back from the brink f annihilation, there are also a few rare positions for becoming a panda keeper for the day, though this is an expensive day out, costing more than 300 US dollars.
The volunteer program at the center only allows 60 people per day to join, so make sure you are booked before heading there, as you may be disappointed. The program allows you to interact more closely with the pandas, and you will be attending panda classes, cleaning the enclosures, making the food for the pandas and feeding them, visiting the Panda Center of Science and Education, and helping with any cubs that are in the center at the time of your visit.
Bifengxia Panda Base
Located at Ya’an City in Sichuan Province, the Bifengxia Panda Base is a research base and breeding facility that was opened as recently as 2004, to cater to the growing number of pandas being bred in captivity for release into the wild. The center was built on a maiden forest in the Bifeng Valley just outside Ya’an City and has become one of the most natural of the panda centers in southwest China. The area
The center was originally intended to just house the adolescent pandas that were not yet in the breeding programs, and give a home to the older pandas that were too old to continue breeding. The perfect panda retirement home, the center’s habitats are spread over a huge area, including leopard Mountain, New leopard Mountain, Bai Xiong Ping, and the quarantine area of Bi Tang, with a kindergarten and nursery, and now a breeding center too, with a research center and hospital.
After the earthquake in 2008 that damaged the Wolong Panda Base, 40 giant pandas were shipped to Bifengxia for care and rehabilitation, and the many large enclosures were split to accommodate the new arrivals. A new breeding center was also built, with 14 camera-monitored enclosures that are monitored 24/7 to ensure successful breeding of the pandas.
The Panda Garden is one of the most popular attractions within the center, which houses 60 giant pandas in the Bifeng Gorge Scenic Area, where the pandas are in their own natural habitat in an area that was once a natural area of the panda’s range. The area has been rehabilitated to improve and increase the amount of bamboo that grows there, the natural food of the giant pandas and 99 percent of their diet.
One of the additional attractions near the Bifengxia Panda Base is the Bifengxia Zoo, on the northern side of the Thousand-Stage Waterfall, one of the amazing attractions at the panda center. While the zoo does not have any giant pandas in residence, there are plenty of other animals there, including the unrelated red panda, which looks more like a North American raccoon, as well as snow leopards, monkeys, deer, and a multitude of other animals native to China and Southeast Asia.
Chengdu has more centers for giant pandas than any other province in China, mostly because of the location in relation to the animals’ natural range in the mountains to the north and west of the Sichuan Basin. For travelers wanting to make the most of their tour in Chengdu, you can spend several days visiting the different centers, each of which has a very different layout and area for the panda enclosures.
For those that do not want to travel far from the city, the Chengdu Panda Base is the closest, lying in the city itself, while the most natural is the Wolong Panda Base, which has a wider area of natural habitat for the pandas in their own natural range in the mountains.