The most popular giant panda sanctuary in China was badly damaged by the 2008 earthquake in the region. Many of the pandas were rehoused in another beautiful area of the country not far away — the Bifeng Valley. Tourists have the opportunity to visit them there and work with the keepers and staff if they wish just as in their previous location.
Before the tragic earthquake of 12 May 2008, visitors hoping to get up close to giant pandas in China went to the Wolong Panda Sanctuary close to Chengdu in Sichuan Province. Fortunately there were no reports of panda casualties, but their environment was devastated by the disaster and they all had to be evacuated and rehomed.
The Bifeng Valley, not far from Ya’an City, is only a couple of hours by road from Chengdu. The valley sits in two gorges that forma V shape. Because of the natural beauty of its slopes, valleys and peaks, with streams, waterfalls and abundant greenery, including the bamboo woodlands critical to the survival of the pandas, it has long been a popular tourist spot.
In 2003, it was selected as an additional Giant Panda Protection and Research Center. The 2008 earthquake damage there was minimal so it was an ideal spot for rehoming many of the pandas.
For the next couple of years, until the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base is fully restored, tourists can travel to Bifeng Valley and enjoy most of the activities previously offered in Wolong. On July 6th, less than a month after the quake, one of the female pandas gave birth to twins at the Bifeng base just a couple of weeks after her successful evacuation there. The babies were soon able to join the growing community of cubs in the panda kindergarten and bring more joy to visitors who love to see the youngsters looking happy after their traumatic experience.
Most cubs are born during July and August after only about four months in their mothers’ wombs. They are very small and need lots of care. When twins are born in the wild, the mother often loses one because it is so difficult for her to care for both at the same time. In the panda breeding centers, with their human carers to help, they have a much better chance of survival.
Many visitors prefer to visit the base in the breeding months so they can be sure to see some little ones. Some even get to cuddle one of them and go home with a photograph to show family and friends and to remind them of the visit in years to come.
Pandas need to spend most of their time eating, and they get through enormous amounts of bamboo each day. Some visitors act as volunteers helping the panda keepers make sure their charges have enough bamboo to eat, plus the extra treats of special bread and biscuits, apples or carrots, that keep them healthy.
At the ticket office, visitors can choose to walk up to the base rather than take the bus. Then they will not only see the pandas, but also take a couple of hours to hike the gorge passing many wonderful viewpoints.
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