Welcome to Chengdu, the panda mecca of the world! Housing 80% of the world’s pandas…these furry black and white cuddle bugs are considered one of the cutest animals in the world. They’re also known as the “national treasure” of China. The panda habitat was once spread out across central, southern, and eastern China (and even neighboring countries like Myanmar and northern Vietnam), but now has been reduced to mainly the Sichuan province of China.
Although there are many wonderful reasons to visit Chengdu (Sichuan cuisine anyone?), I cannot lie that I did make a special trip to Chengdu specifically to visit these adorable balls of fluff.
Why Does China Have a Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centers?
Pandas eat mostly bamboo, and are quite picky with their selection. Due to China’s logging and farming practices, the panda’s natural habitats have been significantly diminished. To top that off, the panda species were placed on the endangered species list in 1990 and it’s really not too surprising why. Reproducing is not high on the panda’s list of priorities, and female pandas only have one day a year when they are able to conceive naturally.
In an effort to protect pandas, the breeding and research centers were established to protect these reproductively challenged animals. China has created 3 main breeding centers where roughly 20 to 50 pandas are housed and watched, to keep these fur balls on the planet. We love these animals, and more money has been spent protecting pandas than any other species. Our efforts have paid off, and I am happy to say that pandas have been removed from the endangered species list, however they are still considered “vulnerable”.
Are the Centers Like a Zoo?
This is a valid concern. If you are afraid that these centers are a zoo specifically for pandas, rest assured, it is not. The main focus of these centers is for panda reproduction and simulating a natural environment so pandas can be returned to the wild. In fact, some of the money paid in entrance fees is channeled directly into helping female pandas reproduce. Artificial insemination is often required.
Which Location Should You Go To?
There are 3 major breeding centers in Chengdu, so you have options!
1. Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Base
We’ll start with the most popular and simultaneously the most crowded location. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is the closest panda facility to Chengdu, and is located about a 40-minute drive outside of the city. It houses about 50 pandas and specializes in baby pandas and their care.
Trust me when I say, you will fall apart watching the baby pandas get nursed and attempt to walk.
At the base of the location you will also find the Giant Panda Museum, offering everything you need to know about these unique animals.
2. Dujiangyan Panda Base
The Dujiangyan Panda Base is the newest panda base and was established in 2014. This site is smaller in size and houses roughly 20 pandas. It specializes on panda breeding, panda wilderness training, and releasing pandas into the wild.
Dujiangyan is located a bit further outside of Chengdu, roughly one and a half hours. This location might be a better option depending on what you are wanting to do. Typically there are fewer crowds and more one-on-one time with the pandas.
Currently the Dujiangyan Base is the only facility that offers a giant panda volunteer program where you can learn more about giant pandas and help take care of them. The fee for this program is pretty hefty and is subject to change, but expect to pay at least $550 USD for a one-day tour. For more information regarding the volunteer program, check out THIS site.
At the time of writing, it is also the only location that allows visitors to take photos and hold a panda.
3. Bifengxia Giant Panda Base
Welcome to Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, the largest giant panda base in the world! Housing over 20 giant pandas, this location raises, breeds, and rescues giant pandas from the wild.
This base is located about a 3-hour drive away from Chengdu. It allows visitors to see pandas in a much more natural environment than the other locations. The pandas are trained in a wild environment simulation where the goal is to return the pandas to their natural habitat.
At the time of writing, the Bifengxia Base has suspended its volunteer program and a reopening date is still TBA. For the most up to date information check THIS site.
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Have you visited the pandas in Chengdu, China? Love to know in the comments below!