Our Amazing “Pandadventure” At The Dujiangyan Panda Base

Filed Under: Travel

I wrote previously about how I booked a day-long panda “volunteer” program for Ben and me. Now I’ll tell you about the experience itself. In short, it was awesome.

We arrived at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda – Dujiangyan Base around 8:30 in the morning. We checked in and received t-shirts to wear throughout the day (and to keep!) and ID badges. We met the six other people in our group of “volunteers:” a family of four French expatriates living in Shanghai and their two house staff.

ID badge

It was clear that the program “pand-ers” to Westerners, since it was conducted in English. Our guide for the day, whose Western name was Elsa (she insists she chose it before Frozen came out) introduced herself and gave us a few rules (i.e., don’t get too close to the pandas without supervision and always wear your ID badges), and collected the 700 RMB (~$100) fee per person for the program (and yes, they do accept credit cards).

By the way, Elsa was an excellent guide. She couldn’t have been friendlier, and her encyclopedic knowledge of everything panda-related had me convinced that she’s every bit as proficient in her field as Ben is in miles and points.

At this point Elsa asked if we’d like to “donate” an additional 1,800 RMB (each!) for the opportunity to hold and take a photo with a baby panda. We politely refused, figuring that 275 bucks for 20 seconds with a bear was a bit too steep. If these pandas are able to “bamboozle” people out of that much cash, I’m in the wrong business!

Then we walked to the first panda habitat area where we were put to work. The French family got to gather bamboo, while Ben and I were entrusted with the “duty” of cleaning up poop.

What an honor it was to clean up the excrement of these noble creatures. And let me tell you, since panda diets consist almost entirely of roughage, they poop a lot. It actually wasn’t as gross as it sounds (some might describe it as “bearable”), and we finished in a few minutes. I also learned that Ben is surprisingly good at cleaning up poop. Always good to have a backup career plan!

The pandas seemed to like supervising us, as they would come by every couple minutes to check on our work.

Ben cleaning up after the panda, who is checking on his work

After Elsa was satisfied with the job we’d done, she took us on a walk around the base to see the 20 or so pandas who live there. The adult pandas each have their own individual habitats, since they tend to prefer being solitary (as a fellow introvert, I can relate). The base is home to several “celebrity” pandas, including Gongzai, the panda who served as the model for Po, the main character in the animated movie Kung Fu Panda.

We had a little over an hour to check out all the pandas at the base. They have pandas of all ages, and while they seem to spend most of their time either eating or sleeping, they also do some crazy stuff, like climb trees!

Sheer panda-monium!
I waved back.
I would love to sit in a giant pile of food someday.

Next came one of the big highlights of the day: feeding the pandas. Here I am feeding carrots to Bao Bao:

Me with Bao Bao!

Bao Bao is special to me, because she was actually born at my local zoo in Washington, D.C., and was something of a local celebrity before being transported earlier this year to Dujiangyan.

This was the best part of the day. The pandas seemed to really enjoy it too.

After that, it was lunchtime. Lunch at the employee cafeteria is included. Unfortunately for me, as the world’s least adventurous eater, there wasn’t much. I had white rice and a banana. Other options included kidney (hopefully not from pandas), some kind of chicken thing, and some kind of tofu thing. Thankfully I was able to buy a box of Oreos in the gift shop for dessert.

Lunch at the employee cafeteria

After lunch, there was some downtime. We waited around for about an hour. Then we watched a 45-minute video (in English) about efforts in China to breed pandas and to return some of them to the wild. I enjoyed it, and learned some interesting things:

  • Before they try to get two pandas to mate, they show them videos of other pandas mating to get them in the mood.
  • When they bring two pandas together to mate, since it’s such a big deal, dozens of people gather around to watch them (which led me to think that maybe pandas just aren’t breeding because they’d prefer a little more privacy).
  • If captive pandas are to have any hope of surviving in the wild, they can’t have any contact with humans – so when humans have to handle bears that are slated for reintroduction to the wild, they dress up in panda suits that have been sprayed with panda urine. #dreamjob
Panda movie

Then we got to feed the pandas some more carrots. It was around this time that I realized the pandas had a better lunch than I did.

Finally, we received a brief lesson about the “panda cakes” that they feed to the bears, made of soybeans, corn, and a few other ingredients. We had the chance to shape the dough into cakes, which would then be baked, allowed to sit overnight, and delivered to Bao Bao and friends for consumption. (Apparently they still prefer bamboo.)

Panda cake lesson

At the end of the program, we received certificates, as well as a pin and some postcards with adorable panda photos on them. We were finished around 2:30 and headed back to Chengdu.

And to think my guidance counselor said I’d never amount to anything.

Bottom Line

This program was so much fun, and well worth the cost. It definitely “ex-pand-ed” my knowledge of these amazing creatures. The one drawback was that there was a lot of downtime. Overall I’d say we spent about half of the day waiting around. So I would suggest either bringing something else to do (maybe a book to read), or asking if you can do an abbreviated version of the program (just make sure you don’t miss the part where you get to feed them!).

  1. You didn’t have to wear the blue jump suits! That is what we had to wear, and it was pretty funny as they were no exactly well fitting. We were there just before Bao Bao went, so we missed seeing her, but had a wonderful time anyway – even though we didn’t get any swag except for the certificate. It was a very special experience – thanks for sharing!

  2. Andrew: do you get to hold the baby pandas? I was able to hold one many years back at the other panda base after paying 1,000 RMB for the photo op. Expensive but worth it.

  3. Coming from another non-adventerous eater, your “meal” of plain rice and a banana seems right up my alley and something i would eat in china.

  4. Sounds like panda feeding time was pandemonium. I have read about the panda porn that they show the pandas to get them pandeliriously into the mood. Thank you for this review. It panders to my naturalist side.

  5. Correction. I believe you meant to write “deported” in this sentence:

    Bao Bao is special to me, because she was actually born at my local zoo in Washington, D.C., and was something of a local celebrity before being transported earlier this year to Dujiangyan.

  6. Wow, white rice and half of a banana? That looks worse than prison food. Time to expand your horizon, man.

  7. It’s hard to imagine why two grown men would be excited about Pandas. Also the red pandas are much cuter and tend to roam around the other Chengdu compound. Did you at least eat some fantastic super spicy hot pot in Chengdu?

  8. I assume that the place you went to was NOT “Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding”?
    I went there couple years ago and loved it. That is a place in the suburbs of Chengdu. At that time they had 54 Pandas of various ages including some tiny ones in a humidicrib.
    They were also selling the $100 baby holding “adventure”.

  9. BTW James , “Red Pandas” are technically not Pandas , or at least unrelated to “giant” Pandas. They are really bear-cats

  10. I would love to do this! We did something very similar at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, but not many pandas. We got to lay bamboo in the enclosure while all the park guests watched….feeding was the best part and would to repeat it!

  11. So you basically got con’ed by the Panda ppl to pay money to “volunteer”. Then they asked you to sweat and clean up giant poop and fed you food that monks won’t even eat. Sigh. It’s true with what they say:”thou shall not fear Chinese communism but fear Chinese capitalism!” Love the comments as usual in each and all of your (yours and Ben’s) blog posts. Points and Mile on comrades!

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