China > Sichuan > Chengdu
Saturday, 23 Jan 2010
Chengdu is, of course, synonymous with the lovable Giant Pandas. Once inhabiting most of central and eastern modern-day China, now there are less than 2,000 pandas in the wild, thanks to widespread habitat destruction, with 80%-90% of them found in the mountains of northern Sichuan. The big earthquake of 2008 forced the evacuation of more captive pandas from the mountains to the Chengdu Panda Base.
Cold morning, 3°C, and as we walk from our hotel to the main street to hail a cab, a man takes his grandson for a walk. I love the kid’s headgear, and hopefully before the day ends, I’ll get mine. 🙂
Some 10km northeast of downtown Chengdu, maniacally driving past busy housing and industrial estates, and thousands of people, our cabby deposits us in an oasis of orderly calmness – The Chengdu Panda Base.
My model obligingly poses at the official name of the Chengdu Panda Base: “CHENGDU RESEARCH BASE OF GIANT PANDA BREEDING” – quite a mouthful.
First thing’s first, get the tickets. Looks like winter is not the best time to visit, but then we can have the park to ourselves, right? And hopefully the pandas too.
But at ¥58 per person, it’s a steal, for such an important global icon.
Past the entrance gate, electric people-movers are ever ready to take those who are not keen to make the long walk in.
It’s such a nice park, that we think a morning walk would do us a lot of good, esp. with pictures of the cute critters urging us on.
To our left, a grand staircase leads to the tourist centre.
The missus goes up to get a park map, which does not come free by the way, and soon returns.
Of course there’s a free map, but you can’t take this around with you. As usual I diligently study the lay-out of this major park.
My map study is momentarilly disrupted by well-costumed security guys strutting behind me to take up positions within the park. The Chinese love their uniforms, I tell you.
Further up the walkway, a panda and her cub sit peacefully in a bed of flowers. Very popular with kids, they are.
Opposite the pandas, something to remind me of James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small”, one of my all-time favourite TV series.
The footpath is now a bamboo cave. Quite surreal.
Up close, the golden stems of Bambusa multiplex alphonsokarri. Origin: Yangtze Valley, China.
A bamboo hut blends in very well with the surrounding.
A clearing in the bamboos, and there’s a Panda Story Cinema (non-stop showing of panda videos), complete with a cafe and a souvenir shop. A couple of ladies are writing their panda postcards.
We round a bend in another bamboo forest …
… to climb up to an enclosure, and I spy what look like red balls.
I find more of them around, these red furballs … what the heck are they? Wookiee would have been proud.
Ah yes, this is the answer: Red Panda, or better known as Firefox, which is a very familiar name, yes?
Lucky me, soon I spot some live ones, still devouring their brekky of bamboos. I thought they would all be having their morning nap by now.
This critter, thought to be a distant relative of the Giant Panda and the racoon, …
… is the size of a largish, fattish, fluffy house-cat.
But now scientists have decided to place the Red Panda in a family of its own, taxonomically of course. No longer ‘related’ to the Giant Panda or the racoon.
No doubt, Firefoxes are really cute, but then we still have our main query – the Giant Panda – to appraise. Soon we are off through another bamboo footpath in search of them.
> TO BE CONTINUED