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The Pandas of Chengdu: A Primer

Pandas are beloved around the world for their playful and endearing mannerisms, their appealing black and white fur, and their indifferent attitude towards everything that isn’t food. Asian mystics imagined them as the living embodiment of the ying-yang principle, and to this day, pandas are a symbol of harmony in Asian cultures.

Though panda enthusiasts rejoiced in 2016 at the news that the species had been taken off the “endangered” list, there is still much cause for concern for the 1,864 pandas the World Wildlife Fund estimates are alive today. The WWF, which chose the panda as its mascot in 1961 keeps a close eye on pandas living both in the wild and in one of China’s panda sanctuaries. Here environmentalists, wildlife conservationists, and biologists help pandas to breed and become acclimated to life in their natural habitat.

Several factors contribute to the vulnerability of pandas today, but undoubtedly the most serious is deforestation of bamboo forests by road and railway building, logging, mining, and other industries. These activities have fractured the pandas’ natural habitat and food sources in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and in many parts of China today. Though pandas are technically omnivores— they aren’t quite as cute as they may seem—bamboo is their primary food: one panda consumes on average 20-40 pounds of bamboo per day. 

When their food source is at risk, many of the natural characteristics of pandas make them increasingly vulnerable. Female pandas ovulate only once a year, in the spring for only 2-3 days, and as a species, pandas are notoriously picky about choosing a mate. Because their primary source of food has minimal natural nutrients, pandas have trouble with pregnancy. While other bears such as black bears or grizzlies gestate up to three cubs per pregnancy, pandas often have trouble birthing only one cub. On the rare occasion that a panda gives birth to two cubs, the smaller and weaker of the two is often abandoned by the mother.  Captivity seems to blunt pandas’ maternal instinct to help their newborn offspring survive the first months of life. This is where humans have to take over.

Baby pandas are adorable but almost helpless for the first months of their lives. Born blind, they also require parental assistance to defecate, and the cause of death for many baby pandas is complications arising from acute constipation.  Once researchers in panda sanctuaries realized this fact, they developed methods to aid infant pandas in voiding their bowels until their muscles are mature enough. This is only one of the measures these devoted wildlife conservationists have had to develop to help pandas grow to maturity and take their place in the wild. Others include dressing up in panda suits sprayed with panda urine and feces to lessen the infants’ dependence on human assistance. Researchers are currently trying to develop ways to teach the baby pandas to recognize predators and take precautionary measures against them. 

Visit the Dujiangyan Panda Center near Chengdu to find out more about pandas and the dedicated conservationists who are helping this vulnerable species survive and thrive on Alexander + Roberts itineraries to China, including the 11-day The Pandas of Chengdu, and 13-day Exotic China, Tibet, and Pandas.  Speak to one of our knowledgeable reservation agents for more information. 

Posted: 11/2/2018 10:22:40 AM by Alexander + Roberts