Travelers trek to China to see some of the world’s wonders: the Great Wall, the terra-cotta warriors, and the iconic giant panda. Habitat destruction from industrialization and natural disasters has rendered this species endangered, with less than 2,000 left in the wild.
Still, there is hope for these furry friends. A feature in National Geographic’s August 2016 issue documents ongoing efforts by scientists at the Wolong Nature Reserve as they breed and release this legendary animal back into its natural environment. Managed by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, the Wolong Nature Reserve encompasses several outposts where tourists can visit and support these two-toned creatures and the teams devoted to saving them.
Dujiangyan Panda Base
The Dujiangyan Panda Base is an hour and a half outside Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu, making it a prime spot for panda encounters since it’s easily accessible to tourists. This center boasts an interactive experience not offered at any other branches of the Wolong Nature Reserve’s network: the Panda Keeper Program, also known as the best babysitting gig in the world. Travelers can assist caretakers in their day-to-day work, which involves waking the pandas up, cleaning the enclosures, and preparing a feast of bamboo for meals and snacks of steamed buns and apples. During your visit, make sure to peer into the base’s panda playground, particularly in the morning when China’s animal ambassadors are at their most active.
Gengda Giant Panda Center
Gengda is the newest facility within the Wolong Nature Reserve, replacing a former research center devastated by the 2008 earthquake. The operations at Gengda, currently in the process of opening up to the public, include education, research, captive breeding, and teaching the giant pandas how to reintegrate into their natural habitat.
Bifengxia Giant Panda Base
If Sichuan Province is considered Panda Nation, then the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base (or BFX) is its soul. BFX is located about 90 miles outside of Chengdu, set inside a valley laced with waterfalls. The largest outpost of the Wolong Nature Reserve, BFX became home to several giant pandas needing refuge after the Wolong panda breeding center was destroyed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The sanctuary also houses a panda kindergarten, where visitors can observe caretakers as they tend, feed, and weigh the not-so-giant panda cubs, which are usually born sometime between July and September. Two young pandas test out their tree-climbing skills at the Gengda Giant Panda Center in Chengdu, China.