The Giant Panda population was down to just 1,000 by the late 1970s and they were declared endangered in 1990. Rampant poaching and rapid destruction of natural habitat had brought them on the brink of extinction.
Thanks to persistent and radical efforts in China, today the Giant Panda has become a global symbol of successful wildlife conservation and according to the latest census in 2014, their population has risen to 1,864 and in the last decade alone it has seen an increase of about 17 percent.
This is a truly remarkable feat and to celebrate International Panda Day in March, I have shared with you the most extraordinary places in China where you can see these endearing creatures.
The most popular and pioneering research and education facility for panda conservation in the world, the centre was established in 1987 with just 6 rescued pandas. Today, it looks after 176 giant pandas.
It’s the best place in the country to see baby pandas, which are hand-reared by the keepers. I was very fortunate to see two new-born pandas on my latest visit. They were just one-week old and I was so surprised to see how small they were, probably the size of a pencil! Baby pandas also don’t look anything like fully-grown pandas, as they are born so tiny and pink with hardly any hair.
It’s very convenient for those with limited amount of time and requiring easy access.
Besides pandas, Chengdu is known for an incredibly beautiful traditional old quarter, fabulous food, traditional face changing opera and superb archaeological museums.
Early morning is the best time to visit when the temperature is cool, as this is when the pandas come out of their air-conditioned enclosures and roam freely in the open. This is also when you’d find young pandas playing with the keepers, which is one of the most amusing sights I’ve ever witnessed. Kids would absolutely love this!
It’s a great place for kids as you can interact with the keepers, watch educational films and even sample the food especially designed for pandas. The only downside is that it is always exceptionally crowded and may seem too commercialised to serious wildlife-lovers.
Dujiangyan Panda Reserve:
Located in the sacred Qingcheng Mountains, Dujiangyan Panda Valley is the best place for those who wish to get involved and volunteer to care for giant pandas.
Opened in 2015, the reserve specialises in training pandas to live in the wild so that they can be released in their natural habitat.
The forested mountains lend themselves beautifully to hikes, which may present an opportunity to see pandas in the wild. For those who enjoy walking, there are ancient pilgrimage routes in the mountains that lead to beautiful temples.
There is a stunning Six Senses resort near the base which offers a tranquil and serene escape from Chengdu’s hustle and bustle.
Laohegou Land Trust Reserve:
Home to a vast variety of wildlife including golden snub-nosed monkeys, Asian golden cats, musk deer and giant pandas, Laohegou Land Trust Reserve was established in 2012 to combine several existing reserves in Western Sichuan.
Although the reserve is currently closed to the general public, we can arrange special access with the help of our associates in China offering one of the most extraordinary experiences.
It’s a great place for intrepid travellers and nature-lovers who wish to learn about panda tracking and conservation.
Tangjiahe Nature Reserve:
Tangjiahe is one of the most important nature reserves in China and is home to about 72 protected species including giant pandas, red pandas, snub-nosed monkeys, clouded leopards and takins- a goat-antelope typically found in the eastern Himalaya.
Like Laohegou, it’s an incredible place for trekking and hiking, and is one of the seven reserves in Sichuan that makes up the largest remaining contiguous habitat for the giant panda and one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
Both Tangjiahe and Laohegou Nature Reserves provide a unique opportunity to explore ethnically diverse villages that play an integral part in protecting the rare flora and fauna of the region. It’s a very different side of China that is mostly overlooked by overseas travellers.