I am currently performing in a musical that has brought me on a five-month long international leg to China; somewhere that had never really been at the top of my travel bucket list. How wrong was I? China is literally full to the brim with magical things I would love to tell you all about, but for now I’ll stick to one little gem.
I have been lucky to see some incredible places and experience some amazing things, but one of my favourite days was spent cleaning up panda poop (yes, you read that correctly!). I was the happiest version of me while cleaning up a beautiful black and white creature’s waste and unwanted bamboo!
We were based in Chongqing for a couple of weeks, which is only a couple of hours by high-speed train from Chengdu, the home of the giant panda. A lot of the usual travel search engines are full of different organized trips to go and see China’s national treasure. All with varying prices, so after a lot of research I settled on China Highlights Panda Keeper program at Dujiangyan Panda Base, short for the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) Dujiangyan Base.
The day was phenomenal. Firstly they deck you out in their volunteer jumpsuits, which I absolutely loved! I’m not sure if boiler suits are making a come back any time soon, but once we’d all rolled up our sleeves a bit, they were pretty cool! At the base they keep the volunteer numbers low so that you have more time with the pandas. We were a group of ten and were split down even further so that we ended up almost being two people looking after one panda. People can pay an entry fee just to wander around the park, but there were special ‘keeper only’ areas, which we obviously had full access to. We did feel smug being in the enclosures while other visitors were kept at a distance!
As I have already mentioned we had the pleasurable job of sweeping up the unwanted bamboo and the task of clearing up panda poop. As a side note, it doesn’t smell so isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds! We then got to feed these amazing animals by hand. The keepers have trained the bears to put one arm through their bars while they eat. So that its easier for them to take blood, or to inject any medication or vitamins that each panda may need to keep them on top form.
I couldn’t quite believe how human these animals are. Their eyes are truly beautiful, they give eye contact and appear to truly be studying us as much as we are them. Their movements are so human – the way they sit, and grasp their food. It sounds silly but I did half expect someone to step out afterwards, as if they’d been wearing a panda costume!
Pandas over the age of four are kept in separate enclosures. We learned that this is because they would fight if they were in a space together. Without sounding ridiculous, their enclosures are amazing! They each have a huge amount of space, trees, toys, and a plentiful amount of bamboo. I was so happy to see them so well looked after. Compared to how we’d normally see animals in a zoo, these bears really are living the high life!
There is an option to pay an extra donation to the sanctuary (1800rmb) to sit next to a one or two-year old panda and have photos taken along with one on one interactive time. This is one of those things that I would whole heartedly recommend if you have the funds. In my mind, I just didn’t want to leave China with any regrets, and if I hadn’t hugged a panda that day I would have been a sad girl on that plane back to London! In my mind it was worth every penny.
My one bit of advice is to be brave, as soon as you sit next to that squishy little ball of fur. If you want to hug it, hug it, or if you’re me and want to go in for the kiss, do it! Time is quite limited and it will be over before you know it, so make that move! However what is fantastic is that a member of staff will be there to take your phone to capture every millisecond of your perfect panda moment.
I really can’t recommend this day highly enough. We had a fantastic guide who’s love of these beautiful bears was so clear and her knowledge was endless. So if you ever find yourself near a high-speed train line that passes through Chengdu and have a free day please go see these fur babies! Now I’m off to go and sit in my free volunteer t-shirt while planning my next little adventure!
Have you ever visited Panda’s in Chengdu? We’d love to hear your advice and tips in the comment section below! Read Next > Volunteering At Esteriliza Y Educa Dog Sanctuary Mexico