Chengdu Panda Base
Everyone loves pandas. Maybe it was because you had that picture book about animals when you were a child and the panda was the cutest animal in it. Perhaps it was because you had that panda stuffed animal when you were six. Whatever the reason, the common perception of a panda is a soft, cute, cuddly, spotted, real life teddy bear, and it’s not too far from the truth.
But stop and think for a second. You haven’t ever seen one, have you? Where in the world do they possibly live? In fact, in the world today, there are less than 1,000 giant pandas, or the black and white pandas you know and love. 80% of these giant pandas are concentrated in Sichuan, China. On our recent trip to Chengdu, a city within Sichuan, Geoffrey and I set out to find and observe these giant pandas and see if they were really as adorable as we had been led to believe.
“Make sure you take a bunch of pictures. As fast as you can please. Oh and take some video, too.”
The man speaking to me was from California, a FedEx pilot who had a few days to spend in China before heading back to the US. The place was the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center, and the time frame to complete the task was about a minute, if the man working the line felt generous.
“Alright sir, please step up,” he said to the pilot.
And just like my career as a professional photographer had started. Well, not quite. But in that minute, I must have taken pictures from every angle of my new friend and this nonchalant, blasé beast, who found it much more interesting to lick the honey off of his paw than to look towards the camera. After a mere 60 seconds, it was my turn, and just 60 seconds after that, I was handed a t-shirt, a donation certificate, and an informational video, and was sent on my way.
Don’t get me wrong; spending time sitting with and petting a panda might perhaps be the coolest thing I’ve ever done. But walking out of the Sunshine Nursery looking at the long line of people about to do the same, I began to wonder what the fascination about pandas really was. Why did people like the pilot, who could have gone anywhere in China, fly to Chengdu to give a large donation to sit with a panda for one minute? Why did I do the same?
I thought about it for a while. And then I realized.
Giant pandas need to eat about 80 pounds of bamboo every day just to survive. This means they spend about half of their day eating. Their digestive system also is not very efficient, so a lot of the nutrients they need often do not get to the right places. Consequently, it is quite hard for a panda to have enough food to survive, let alone be able to process this food correctly and attain all of the necessary nutrients.
But the panda is one of the most beautiful animals in the world, and it needs our help to survive. Every person’s donation goes directly to this cause: maintaining the habitat for these animals and providing them with the materials to survive and reproduce. Without people like the pilot, or other visitors, there would be no Chengdu Panda Base, and maybe even no pandas.
And then I looked at a picture of me with the panda, one of many the pilot snapped for me as he frantically scrambled around during my one minute of fame. I saw the big smile spread across my face, one that refused to come off for a good half hour even after my time with the panda. I immediately knew I had made the right decision.