Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre, Sichuen, China
Few people do not know about the Giant Panda. Their symbolic black and white fur-colour distinguishes them well from any other animals. Giant Panda, with only about one thousand left in the wild, is also the most well known endangered animal in the world. The rare animal is endemic to China, though some of the habitats were found in northern Vietnam and other nearby areas over half a million years ago. Since the very beginning, most of the research works on Giant Panda have been carrying out on-site at the Giant Panda's natural habitats.
Many of you may have been excited by a pair of giant pandas in the zoo. Despite of their laziness, they are cute and charming. Every movement of them looks so funny but humane. But, imagine there are at one time over twenty giant pandas wandering in front of you. Would you gape ¡K... or scream?
I was so amazed when it happened to me at Wolong during a visit in Spring 1998!
Wolong is a part of the Sichuan Province of China. From Chengdu, it is about four hours' drive. Further drive from Wolong through the Balang Shan (Balang Mountain) will take you to Jiusaigou. Wolong is a highland at almost one thousand meters above sea level. The altitude brings it high contrast of weather among the four seasons of a year.
The Giant Panda Reserve is not all of Wolong. There are many other sites along the way from the fields to the mountaintops worth a visit.
WOLONG GIANT PANDA BREEDING CENTRE
The Wolong Giant Panda Reserve Centre is one of the earliest research bases established in the early 1980s by the Government of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Until 1989, the Ministry of Forestry of PRC and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) formulated a long-term Giant Panda Management Plan.
Today, the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve Centre has become the Giant Panda Breeding Centre focusing on research works on giant panda breeding and bamboo ecology. Much other research works are being carried out at other Reserves such as the one in Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi Province.
The Centre basically takes care of giant pandas under three situations:
The Centre has two types of 'accommodations' for giant pandas - the Captive Cages and the Semi-nature Enclosures.
Most of the giant pandas in the Centre stay individually in the captive cages, which are in fact large enclosures, each consists of an in-door room and an out-door courtyard.
The semi-nature enclosures are very large wild areas but protected by border fences. Those giant pandas that will soon be released back to the wild will be put in the semi-nature enclosures for a long enough period of time for them to adapt to the natural environment. Although food has to be provided, the giant pandas will sleep there, eat there and recover their natural survival skills there until they can be released back to the wild.
LESSER PANDA SEMI-NATURE CENTRE
Lesser Panda, also called Red Panda or Small Panda (in Chinese language), is another type of endangered bear. They look very much different from the giant panda - they are much smaller, have brown and black fur, have a long tail, are more active, are skilled clambers, and as much cute and lovely as the giant panda.
The Lesser Panda Semi-Nature Centre locates right next to the Giant Panda Breeding Centre. The purpose and setup of the facility is the same as that of the Giant Panda Breeding Centre. Except that it does not need as much of space as the Giant Panda Breeding Centre to hold the smaller size Lesser Pandas.
A hiking of five hundred meters up hill is needed to reach Wuyipeng. Except when the trail is covered with melting ice during late winter, the walk is easy.
Wuyipeng was once a research facility of the Giant Panda Reserve Centre. It was intentionally located closer to the habitat of the Giant Panda for the researchers' more convenient access to the habitat. Owing to the relocating of many of the research works to other Giant Panda Reserves, Wuyipeng is no long fully functioning. However, weather statistics are still being recorded daily to provided limited information for the Giant Panda Breeding Centre.
Occasionally, local or overseas research students on related subjects will come to conduct academic research and utilise the accommodation facilities.
BALANG SHAN (BALANG MOUNTAIN)
Balang Shan runs three thousand meters further towards the sky. The mountaintop is about four thousand meters above sea level. Going up the mountain, you will see a variety of vegetations grow to adapt to the change in temperature, humidity, amount of sunlight and air pressure due to the change in altitude. The phenomenon is more obvious when the plants bloom during spring and summer.
For birdwatchers, Balang Shan caters different types of birds along the changing altitude, too. Far before reaching the mountaintop, I was lucky enough to see two fascinating Golden Eagles flying below my feets! The Taiwan published A Field Guide to the Birds of China is quite comprehensive for birdwatchers' reference.
Other spots alongside the Min River within Wolong also have spectacular views and are good for photo-taking and birdwatching. For example, at Yingchanggou you can find stones with high mineral contents. There is an exhibition centre exhibiting many information and specimen of the area. If you've got the time, energy and patience, you may even do a serious hiking to track for wild giant pandas' foot prints.
There are at least two inns in the Wolong village where you can stay and eat. The facilities are basic but clean and tidy, which includes electric water heater for shower. Don't expect for air-conditioners nor TV sets. After all, you will not need them.
Local telephone calls (within China) are possible, but long distance calls are not gauranteed.
Typical Sichuen dishes are served. The Sichuen noodles and dim-sum are especially delicate. The foods are not necessary spicy and hot, though most of them are. You have to remind the cooks to take away the chilies if you prefer not to take a risk.
HOW TO GO
It must be noted that both the Giant Panda Breeding Centre and the Lesser Panda Semi-Nature Centre were established for wildlife and habitat conservation purposes, but not as tourist attractions. There are no regular visiting programmes nor standby tour guides. But owning to its popularity, there are now tour operations arranging visits to the area.
If you do not know any of the travel agencies within China, you may try to get hold of some local travel agencies through the Chengdu hotels, so that you can asked for a tailor made tour. A two-night stay should be fair enough for going through the above mentioned spots.
In view of the long travelling distance and the limited communication facilities along the way from the city to Wolong, just renting a van from Chengdu and expect a walk-in room booking to the Wolong inns is NOT recommended.
ONE LAST WORD
Wolong is definitely uncontaminated. People are friendly and warm¡K..
Do bear in mind that the Giant Panda Breeding Centre is not a zoo nor a touris attraction. Adjust your mind set and you'll learn a lot from it.
While planning your itinerary, why not spare some space for playing Taichi with the sunrise, and joining the villagers' folk dance around a camp fire!
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