Visiting the Pandas in Chengdu China

Back Stage at Rice and Friends Cooking School in Dali, China
March 28, 2012
Cycling along Er Hai Lake
Cycling along Er Hai Lake
April 3, 2012

Visiting the Pandas in Chengdu China

I’ve seen Pandas before—in the San Diego Zoo when I was a child and the couple on loan to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. But they’re always so far away it’s hard to get a good view. At The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base outside Chengdu, China, they are not. For hours I watched many of the Giant Pandas from close range—within a few meters—and fired away with my camera.

These “Great Bear Cats” as they’re called in Chinese, are beyond adorable, and the only animal I could confidently say the adults are just as cute as the babies. I watched, and smiled, and photographed, and laughed, and repeated the process. Most of their day, estimated to be 16 hours, is spent munching away on bamboo. You can observe them from such a close distance that you can see and hear them peel the bamboo, then crunch it with their teeth. At will they roll on to their backs and snooze, then randomly wake, move, or start chomping again.

This is where the Giant Panda originates—here on the cool mountains of China’s Sichuan Province.

The Research Base is basically a zoo, but it focuses on getting these sexually reluctant creatures to breed. It contains the most Giant Pandas, as well as Red Pandas, in captivity in the world.

Some facts about Pandas:

  • Pandas weren’t known to the Western world until Pere Armand David, a French naturalist brought home a pelt from China in 1869.
  • There are thought to be fewer than 1,000 pandas left in the wild.
  • The Pandas habitat is restricted to just five mountain ranges in the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu.
  • Pandas eat about 40 kg of nutrient-poor bamboo every day.
  • 99% of a wild panda’s diet is made up of bamboo. Due to a carnivorous ancestry, they sometimes eat small rodents.

The base supposedly closes at 6pm, but no one was around to tell us to leave so we wandered back to the sub-adult area. This is when the teenagers really came alive—playing, wrestling, and running around. We lingered there for another 30 minutes before leaving. Enjoy the rest of the photos!

Pandas in Chengdu China

Pandas in Chengdu China 1

See how close you can get to the Pandas!

Pandas in Chengdu China 2

Panda pooping

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Panda cub

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Panda cub up in a tree

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Panda cub in tree refuses to come down for dinner

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Zookeepers come to scold panda cub for not coming down for dinner

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Zookeepers remove panda cub from tree

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Pandas in Chengdu China 4

Teenage pandas

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Mike B. says:

    Could these guys be any cuter? You know monkeys are my favorite with puffins a close second. These panda pics take the cake! I am completely jealous!

  2. rashmi says:

    Such cute photos and very informative article. Thanks!

  3. Noel says:

    They look soooooo cute!!! I want one!

  4. Stephen Bugno says:

    Come to Chengdu! They’re giving them away for free!

  5. Vicky says:

    These pandas are seriously adorable! We are currently in Chengdu and going to see the pandas in a few days (heading to Jiuzhaigou first) and can’t wait!!!!

  6. Stephen Bugno says:

    You can’t miss the pandas if you go to Chengdu! Enjoy, they are fun to watch.

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