I recently finished guiding another spectacular natural history-focused (but with lots of culture as well) expedition in one of the greatest and most undiscovered jewels—China’s Sichuan Province. There were many aspects to this amazing journey, but for now I will only share a bit about the three panda breeding bases we visited.
The story of saving the giant panda from extinction is, in my opinion, one of the world’s greatest conservation stories in history. As I reflect on it, and watch it progress, it actually makes me tear up. Many folks stereotype the Chinese as plunderers of natural resources. I am ashamed of these perceptions made by people who live in North America, where some of the greatest ecological travesties in history have played out, such as the loss of the bison herds in the Great Plains! China has incurred similar losses in their 5,000 years of civilization, but that should not keep people from appreciating the giant panda story. This is a complicated tale, and I am exhausted now from working with sun bears in Borneo, so I will save the details for a later date. For now, let’s take a look at some awesome facilities that are working with tremendous budgets to save the most charismatic mammal on Earth.
Our first visit was to Panda Valley, China’s newest panda conservation base. Although there is not a large number of pandas here (only 14), what struck me was the quality of the viewing and the specific focus of the base. The surroundings, located adjacent to wild panda habitat, were so beautiful and lush. It only takes a couple of cubs climbing in flowery trees to make a photography group very happy!
Below are some photos of the resident cubs at Panda Valley, all born in the fall and around eight months old.
The coolest aspect of this base is the fact that some of the enclosures are designed as semi-wild habitat, to prepare select pandas for reintroduction to the wild. George Schaller, the biologist who in the 1980s unlocked the mysteries of wild giant panda biology which led to the saving of the species from extinction, had a dream to use captive bred pandas as vital infusions to the wild population. Finally in 2016, it is happening!
Come back next week to hear about the other two panda breeding bases we visited.