Friday, 20 February 2009

Chengdu and the Shadow of the Earthquake: Part 2

Next morning and after one of our group was late to the coach, causing us to get stuck in heavy traffic, we were on our way to the mountains to see the pandas. On the way our lovely guide Rebecca, who’s Chinese name translated as ‘rainbow’, told us that after the earthquake it was now unknown how many wild pandas were left. She also made it very clear that in this region animal cruelty is on the decline and that anyone who kills a panda will be given the death sentence.

Chengdu began to give way to rolling farmland and misty mountains and eventually we started to ascend to the panda reserve high above Ya’an. The mist was thick and the rain was the kind that soaks you through in several seconds. However, we were in the mountains of one of the most humid regions in the country so it wasn’t exactly unexpected.

The landscape was stunning and suitably dramatic. After surviving the ordeal of the coach being swung around the stupidly small roads (with a shear drop on one side) we reached 1800 feet and it was time to see some pandas.

As soon as the coach stopped my girlfriend and I went bounding off leaving everyone behind. Reaching the first habitat an adult Panda had duly set about stripping a piece of bamboo. They really are magnificent creatures and though they look cute and cuddly I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of their razor sharp claws. They are also very fast and excellent climbers.

It was feeding time and keepers went into the various areas with leaves and fruit. A panda in the habitat began to stir and wander over for its lunch. Another decided he wanted his own food and climbed up a tree to find some.

Our guide took us around to where some new born cubs were being monitored. We could only see them through thick glass and flash photography was strictly forbidden as it can blind them when they are so young.

Ya’an is linked to the Wolong Panda Reserve and after the earthquake they took in a large number of the bears. As a result massive construction was under way to make room for all the new arrivals. Male pandas need a lot of space and if put together will fight once they reach adulthood. The sudden influx of Pandas from Wolong had put strain on this much smaller center, but it was clear the problem was being sorted out as quickly as possible.

We went to see some of the rescued pandas living in a different part of the reserve. Some of them were still nervous about what had happened and either hid away or tried to climb as far from the ground as they could. Our guide explained that the keepers take a very soft approach towards these bears so not to cause them undue stress.

The highlight of the day was when some of us were lucky enough to actually sit next to a young panda and feed him. The 18 month old bear named Hua ao wasn’t particularly interested in me. He sat eating his leaves and only really turned to me when he had run out of food. In all I must have spent around five minutes with him but it is something that will stay with me for a long time.

Time was up and we begrudgingly started the long walk to the coach. My girlfriend and I said goodbye to every panda along the way before we finally made it through the gates to the outside world.

No comments:

Post a Comment