Forget Youtube, Here’s Where to see Giant Pandas in the Wild

This Chinese nature reserve introduces pandas to their new home—the wild. | By Alexandra E. Petri  
Pandas in Chengdu
Two young pandas test out their tree-climbing skills at the Gengda Giant Panda Center in Chengdu, China. Photo: Ami Vitale/National Geographic Creative

Travellers trek to China to see some of the world’s wonders: the Great Wall, the terracotta warriors, and the iconic giant panda. Habitat destruction from industrialization and natural disasters has rendered this species endangered, with less than 2,000 left in the wild. Still, there is hope for these furry friends; a feature in National Geographic Magazine’s August 2016 issue documents ongoing efforts by scientists at the Wolong Nature Reserve as they breed and release this legendary animal back into its natural environment. Managed by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, the Wolong Nature Reserve encompasses several outposts where tourists can visit and support these two-toned creatures and the teams devoted to saving them.

Pandas at Wolong Reserve

A mom and cub at Wolong Reserve. Photo: Ami Vitale/National Geographic Creative

Dujiangyan Panda Base

The Dujiangyan Panda Base is 90 minutes outside Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu, making it a prime spot for panda encounters since it’s easily accessible. This centre boasts an interactive experience not offered at other branches of the Wolong Nature Reserve’s network: the Panda Keeper Program, also known as the best babysitting gig in the world. Travellers can assist caretakers in their work, which involves waking the pandas up, cleaning the enclosures, and preparing a feast of bamboo for meals, and snacks of steamed buns and apples. During your visit, make sure to peer into the base’s panda playground, particularly in the morning when China’s animal ambassadors are at their most active.

Gengda Giant Panda Center

Gengda, Wolong Nature Reserve’s newest facility, has replaced a former research centre devastated by the 2008 earthquake. The operations here, currently in the process of opening up to the public, include education, research, captive breeding, and teaching the animals how to reintegrate into their natural habitat.

Bifengxia Giant Panda Base

Pandas at Bifengxia Base

At China’s Bifengxia Base, visitors peek into the baby pandas’ nursery. Photo: Ami Vitale/National Geographic Creative

If Sichuan Province is considered Panda Nation, then the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base (or BFX) is its soul.BFX is located about 145 kilometres outside of Chengdu, set inside a valley laced with waterfalls. The largest outpost of the Wolong Nature Reserve, BFX became home to several giant pandas needing refuge after the Wolong panda breeding centre was destroyed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The sanctuary also houses a panda kindergarten, where visitors can observe caretakers at work as they tend, feed, and weigh the not-so-giant panda cubs, who are usually born sometime between July and September.

Appeared in the October 2016 issue as “Bear Witness”.

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