Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Ok… that title is not quite true. Pandas are spectacular animals, obviously; it’s that they’re just a bit rubbish at being animals. An animal generally needs a few things to keep going, food and reproduction pretty much top the list for successful survival, it turns out pandas are really bad when it come to these two. Something we weren’t so aware of until we came to Chengdu.
Now clearly if it wasn’t for humans, who incidentally, are incredible when it comes to the above, we can eat pretty much anything and we can certainly knock out the little ones, pandas wouldn’t have a problem. They would just carry on doing what pandas have done for millennia, without fear of habitat destruction or being killed for whatever purpose. With the added pressure from us though there is little hope.
Here are some of the interesting things we found out about the giant panda while in Chengdu which make it quite frankly rubbish.
First off the panda diet is pretty much just bamboo, they will eat some other stuff but only rarely, bamboo is so nutritionally poor that they have to literally eat tons of the stuff to stay alive.
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Also the bamboo they like has its own lifespan causing huge die offs every now and again meaning that if any pandas are dependant on it and sadly can’t move somewhere else (probably because we’ve stuck a massive city there), they starve and die.
Panda reproduction is bizarre, it’s a wonder they have any cubs at all.
The male and female genitals do not match in size; the female has a long vagina, whereas the male has a small penis. Huh, how stupid is that???
Females come onto heat once a year for two to three days and show no outward signs to the male that it’s occurring. Now c’mon ladies, they’re not mind readers!
The cubs are effectively born premature and are the smallest newborn of any non-marsupial mammal. This means that it can be very difficult for the mother to take care of them; first time mothers find it especially difficult. Panda cubs also grow very slowly due to the low energy diet of the mother.
The low reproductive rate of pandas means that they’re finding it very difficult to recover from their decline in numbers.
As for breeding in captivity, it
turns out that captive pandas show little desire to mate at all. Some institutions have even resorted to showing their pandas panda porn in an attempt to stir up some interest. Due to the difficulty involved with breeding them in captivity, artificial insemination has become the norm.
I forget the numbers, but apparently the giant panda is an old species, surviving longer than the average species normally does. Maybe whether we were here or not the panda would have slowly evolved its way to extinction, becoming so un-adaptable that any change in its environment (natural or otherwise) would have meant the end to the species.
We found all this out while watching a documentary at the breeding centre
in Chengdu, I’ve no idea how old the particular documentary was so many of these facts have probably been superseded by new research, but it certainly made us think about the future of pandas. In the future the only pandas that exist may only be the product of artificial insemination or cloning.
All of this aside, as everyone knows there’s something about the giant panda which makes it just a bit special. When you see one, you can’t help but
be bowled over by their immense lovability, they look like they need to be cuddled. Their rareness also makes them intriguing. We were lucky enough to see some in a zoo when we were in Vienna, and at the time thought nothing of it… It’s a panda; everyone’s seen pandas and they’re everywhere aren’t they? Well it turns out they’re not, there are actually very few in zoos around the world and the costs associated with keeping them are pretty astronomical. We again saw some at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, and knowing how rare they were, we were a little more appreciative of the opportunity.
So as we were travelling south through China it seemed obvious to us to stop in Chengdu and check out the Panda Breeding and Research Centre. There were many adult pandas at the centre and a few young ones but sadly we didn’t get to see any tiny ones. There were also some red pandas there which were great as they’re just as lovable as the big fellas. It was a good day out and Nate and Gabe seemed to enjoy them just as much as we did, sadly as they are so
young the memory of them will fade, and who knows when they’ll get the opportunity to see them again.
Also while in Chengdu we also took a trip out to Leshan to see the Giant Buddha. It’s pretty old (built during the Tang Dynasty 618–907AD) and is actually carved out of a cliff face. We left Chengdu really early and subsequently arrived at the Buddha really early so at the start we pretty much had it all to ourselves, this didn’t last though as the tour groups started to turn up, rapidly turning the place into a mass of people. We saw it up close from eye level and also took the stairway leading down the cliff to its feet so we could get a good worm’s eye view of it. There were also a lot of nice gardens around the scenic area so it was easy to lose the rest of the morning there.
From Chengdu we actually managed to book soft sleeper tickets out to our next destination Guilin, and 25 hours later arrived after actually having a pleasant trip. Although it cost more it was nice to actually have a bed that was only a
foot or so above the floor and a compartment that the boys could hide in if the attention from all the other (Chinese) passengers got too much.
Guilin was just a stop over really on our way to Yangshuo so we didn’t do much in the city at all apart from go visit Seven Stars Park and the cave within,Seven-Star Cave
, It was a fairly typical Chinese park with nicely laid out attractions and beautiful landscaping, but it couldn’t match the surrounding karst
scenery which is the principal attraction in the area, something we knew would only get better once we headed to Yangshuo.
It was a short one hour bus ride to Yangshuo from Guilin, and it was easy to realise why the town has become such a popular tourist attraction, it’s nestled right amongst a group of spectacular peaks and these peaks were the backdrop to the first thing we saw that first evening we were there, the performance of Impression Sanjie Lu. This performance is shown at the worlds largest natural theatre using the Li River as the stage with 12 of the hills lit up behind providing the backdrop. It was an interesting performance utilising
hundreds of performers, and it was actually directed in part by the same chap who did the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing. A lot of the story was lost on me, but with that many performers, in such a beautiful setting you couldn’t help but be impressed. It managed to hold Nate’s attention all the way through but Gabe fell asleep about half way through, I think because of how late it ran rather than a reflection of the performance.
For the next day we took a cruise down the Li River, starting upstream from Yangshuo in a town called Yangdi and ending in a town called Xingping. The cruise took us along an incredibly beautiful stretch of the river taking in the iconic scenery, it was also fairly peaceful till the end when the river started to become over run with tourists, especially around the area depicted on the 20 Yuan note. The town we finished in was actually quite lovely too and as we stayed there quite late after a lot of the tour groups had left so it was fairly deserted. The shopping was better than in Yangshuo, the starting prices
were about half, which is a much better point to start bargaining.
No trip to Yangshuo would have been complete without climbing at least one of the peaks so on our last day in the town we caught a bus to Moon Hill and started the fairly short climb to the top. It wasn’t too hard and if I could do it carrying a two year old anyone can. Sadly though the weather wasn’t on our side, it was a little misty and starting to drizzle so the view wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been but it was ok and we could at least get a sense of how beautiful it would be if it was clear.
From Yangshuo we caught a four hour bus ride to the city of Nanning. Once we arrived we started the process of getting a Vietnamese visas processed and then as we had four days to kill we just chilled out in the hostel
, chatting to any other travellers passing through and generally treating the place like a home from home. One of the days we did visit a hot spring resort close to the city which was lovely, but
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
as the only westerners there we did attract quite a lot of attention, especially the boys, so at times it did feel like we were in a goldfish bowl as large groups of Chinese would all stop and stare at us in the pools.
Once our passports were returned with our shiny new Vietnamese visas in we had a bus to catch, a long journey of nine hours to Hanoi. Once again we were going to be treading on familiar ground, in fact it’s now going to be a long time before we see anything new again and this suits us just fine as we’re now going to slow down and just drift through South East Asia, taking it really slowly. We’ve made it to where we want to be, so now it’s time to just relax and see where the journey takes us…
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