In zoos all over the world, crowds battle to catch a peek of one of the world’s most recognizable and rarest animals, the giant panda. During our visit to the Chendgu Panda Breeding Research Center, tourists were so few that the pandas actually invited us to join them and granted us an interview. Here’s what Jing-Jing, their spokesperson, had to say:
Dan: We noticed you put away a lot of bamboo for breakfast. Lunch and dinner, too. Don’t you ever get tired of it?
Jing-Jing: Dude, we keep things simple and focused. All bamboo, all the time. I’m not much of a multi-tasker, you know. Can’t say enough about what it does for the digestive system, either.
Dan: What’s it like being the rock star of the animal kingdom?
Jing-Jing: A lot of pressure and a lot of work. Maybe a reason for our low birth rates.
Did you know the Chinese government made us stay still for hours as they sketched us for that Olympic mascot? No bamboo breaks, either!
Dan: What’s the most difficult situation you’ve ever been in here at the center?
Jing-Jing: An ambitious Japanese tourist – 3 cameras around his neck – jumped the moat and joined me for breakfast.
Dan: Holy sh-t! What did you do?
Jing-Jing: I swiped him with my right claw and he fainted. Couldn’t even get a snapshot off. Eventually my handlers took him away. They made him pay a big fine…went to the bamboo fund.
Dan: What’s your favorite Chinese beer?
Jing-Jing: While Tsingdao has the international recognition, the local version is a bit too watered-down for my taste. We pandas are PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] bears, all the way.
Dan: An American beer, really?
Jing-Jing: Yeah, don’t tell the authorities. We and our handlers keep it on the down low.
Dan: Rumor has it that you guys are actually tough animals. What’s this about air conditioning in the cages at the breeding center?
Jing-Jing: My natural home is up there in the mountains [pointing with his right paw]. It’s cool up there. The specialists didn’t think we were making enough new pandas in the hills, so they brought us down here. You know, the Chinese are big on family. But we need a cool environment in order to get busy.
Dan: What do you think about Tibet?
Jing-Jing: Time’s up. Nap time.
Thanks to the Chendgu Panda Breeding Research Center for cranking out high-quality pandas. And a big bear hug to Jing-Jing for some real perspective on life as a Chinese panda.
Our visit to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, occurred just weeks after the Sichuan Earthquake (May 12, 2008). The largest panda conservation in Sichuan – Wolong Nature Reserve – had been badly damaged by the earthquake. The Research Center just outside of Chengdu was unaffected and almost begging people to visit. During our visit, we shared the entire center with three other tourists.
How to get to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center:
Getting there by public transport is not as difficult as the guest houses make it out to be. This also allows you to spend as much time with the pandas as you like. Take bus #1 north until the end and then take bus #532 or #107 to the Panda Center. Each bus costs 1-2 RMB. Ask your guest house to write the name of the center in Chinese so you can double check that you are on the correct bus. Don't worry, the entire bus will make sure you get off at the right place. Tickets: 30 RMB ($5).Address: #26 Panda Road, Northern Suburb of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China.