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Wednesday
Feb152012

A look at Chengdu’s pandas

Take a look at the adorable panda shots adorning the Chengdu Panda Base website (www.panda.org.cn). Like bush babies and koalas, pandas are super cute.

Thank those big dark eyes, those tiny ears and fluffy, tubby stomach. Unlike other endangered species such as sharks, pandas spark our “parenting mechanisms”. Cue the urge to coo and cuddle the bear-like black-and-white darlings native to Chinese bamboo forests.

Cue the growth of Chengdu Panda Base. Set near Chengdu – the capital of spicy food hub Sichuan province in western central China – the base resembles a panda empire, sprawling over countless acres.

Chengdu Panda Base opened in 1987, with six giant pandas rescued from the wild. Now, its captive population is edging toward 100.

The conservationists who run the base, which perches on a mist-capped mountain, boast that they have avoided taking giant pandas from the wild for 20 years.

Helped by the fact that the panda is one of the few animals whose parts are shunned by traditional Chinese medicine, Chengdu Panda Base 'works'. In fact, the base is so successful that it has the wiggle room to give pandas away to good homes. The base just shipped two to Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo [www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8932942/Giant-pandas-begin-their-5000-mile-journey-to-Edinburgh-zoo.html], which wants to boost its star power.

To put you in the mood for a Chengdu Panda Base visit, adoption or donation [www.panda.org.cn/english/us/2.htm] here are some winningly weird facts about pandas: eccentric animals by any standards.

Panda facts

 

1. An adult panda weighs about 100 kilos: hefty. But a newborn panda cub is tiny – 1/900th the size of its mother, about the length of a stick of butter – another cute coup for the species.
2. A panda’s paw has six digits – five fingers and an opposable pseudo-thumb – actually an enlarged wrist bone. A panda uses the bizarre bone to hold bamboo while eating – its main pursuit besides looking cute.
3. Female pandas ovulate once a year and stay fertile for just three days at most. So, despite the picture that Chengdu’s thriving colony presents, it is hard to breed pandas.
4. Ninety nine per cent of a panda’s diet, which consists of bamboo leaves and shoots, has little or no nutritional value due to another weird panda fact: the creature’s digestive system is built to tackle meat, not bamboo. 
5. Because bamboo gives a panda so little energy, it must daily munch through an awful lot of it – over 10 kilos. 
6. Because of its dud diet, the panda must live a koala-like, low-energy, sedentary lifestyle that enhances its alluring air of harmless vulnerability. The panda could hardly less resemble a grizzly bear.
7. The WWF’s panda logo was inspired by Chi-Chi, a giant panda brought to London Zoo in 1961, when the WWF [www.wwf.org] was a fledgling enterprise. 
WWF co-founder Sir Peter Scott wanted to highlight a beautiful animal that is threatened and loved around the world. Sir Peter, who sketched the first logo, also wanted an animal that cut a dash in black and white for a pragmatic reason: to cut printing costs. Trivial Pursuit fans take note.
More info: Chengdu has an international airport that connects to most major Asian cities. The Panda Base is located just outside the city center, with feeding time between 9.30-10am. The pandas are most active in the morning.

 

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