Giant Panda Centre
Few people do not know about the Giant Panda. Their symbolic black and white fur-colour distinguishes them well from any other animals. Giant Panda, with only about one thousand left in the wild, is also the most well known endangered animal in the world. The rare animal is endemic to China, though some of the habitats were found in northern Vietnam and other nearby areas over half a million years ago. Since the very beginning, most of the research works on Giant Panda have been carrying out on-site at the Giant Panda's natural habitats.
Many of you may have been excited by a pair of giant pandas in the zoo. Despite of their laziness, they are cute and charming. Every movement of them looks so funny but humane. But, imagine there are at one time over twenty giant pandas wandering in front of you. Would you gape ˇ... or scream?
Wolong is a part of the Sichuan Province of China. From Chengdu, it is about four hours' drive. Further drive from Wolong through the Balang Shan (Balang Mountain) will take you to Jiusaigou. Wolong is a highland at almost one thousand meters above sea level. The altitude brings it high contrast of weather among the four seasons of a year.
The Giant Panda Reserve is not all of Wolong. There are many other sites along the way from the fields to the mountaintops worth a visit.
Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre
The Wolong Giant Panda Reserve Centre is one of the earliest research bases established in the early 1980s by the Government of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Until 1989, the Ministry of Forestry of PRC and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) formulated a long-term Giant Panda Management Plan.
Today, the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve Centre has become the Giant Panda Breeding Centre focusing on research works on giant panda breeding and bamboo ecology. Much other research works are being carried out at other Reserves such as the one in Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi Province.
The Centre basically takes care of giant pandas under three situations:
when the giant pandas are brought up from captive breeding,
when the giant pandas are somehow dispersed from the group, or are rescued from injury, and have lost the ability to survive if released back to the wild,
when the giant pandas are ready to be released back t to the wild.
The Centre has two types of 'accommodations' for giant pandas - the Captive Cages and the Semi-nature Enclosures.
Most of the giant pandas in the Centre stay individually in the captive cages, which are in fact large enclosures, each consists of an in-door room and an out-door courtyard.
The semi-nature enclosures are very large wild areas but protected by border fences. Those giant pandas that will soon be released back to the wild will be put in the semi-nature enclosures for a long enough period of time for them to adapt to the natural environment. Although food has to be provided, the giant pandas will sleep there, eat there and recover their natural survival skills there until they can be released back to the wild.
Lesser Panda Semi-nature Centre
Lesser Panda, also called Red Panda or Small Panda (in Chinese language), is another type of endangered bear. They look very much different from the giant panda - they are much smaller, have brown and black fur, have a long tail, are more active, are skilled clambers, and as much cute and lovely as the giant panda.
The Lesser Panda Semi-Nature Centre locates right next to the Giant Panda Breeding Centre. The purpose and setup of the facility is the same as that of the Giant Panda Breeding Centre. Except that it does not need as much of space as the Giant Panda Breeding Centre to hold the smaller size Lesser Pandas.
A hiking of five hundred meters up hill is needed to reach Wuyipeng. Except when the trail is covered with melting ice during late winter, the walk is easy.
Wuyipeng was once a research facility of the Giant Panda Reserve Centre. It was intentionally located closer to the habitat of the Giant Panda for the researchers' more convenient access to the habitat. Owing to the relocating of many of the research works to other Giant Panda Reserves, Wuyipeng is no long fully functioning. However, weather statistics are still being recorded daily to provided limited information for the Giant Panda Breeding Centre.
Occasionally, local or overseas research students on related subjects will come to conduct academic research and utilise the accommodation facilities.
There are at least two inns in the Wolong village where you can stay and eat. The facilities are basic but clean and tidy, which includes electric water heater for shower. Don't expect for air-conditioners nor TV sets. After all, you will not need them.
Local telephone calls (within China) are possible, but long distance calls are not gauranteed.
Typical Sichuen dishes are served. The Sichuen noodles and dim-sum are especially delicate. The foods are not necessary spicy and hot, though most of them are. You have to remind the cooks to take away the chilies if you prefer not to take a risk.
How to go
It must be noted that both the Giant Panda Breeding Centre and the Lesser Panda Semi-Nature Centre were established for wildlife and habitat conservation purposes, but not as tourist attractions. There are no regular visiting programmes nor standby tour guides. But owning to its popularity, there are now tour operations arranging visits to the area.
If you do not know any of the travel agencies within China, you may try to get hold of some local travel agencies through the Chengdu hotels, so that you can asked for a tailor made tour. A two-night stay should be fair enough for going through the above mentioned spots.
In view of the long travelling distance and the limited communication facilities along the way from the city to Wolong, just renting a van from Chengdu and expect a walk-in room booking to the Wolong inns is NOT recommended.
A Safe Place in the Mountains
The Wolong Nature Reserve is located high in the mountains of western China's Sichuan Province. It was set up in 1963. Wolong is home to over 6,000 species of plants and animals. It is one of the last protected homes of the giant panda, red panda, takin, and golden snub-nose monkey. Wolong contains lush deciduous and evergreen temperate forests and high, ice-covered mountains. Wolong is a UNESCO ˇ°Man & Biosphereˇ± protected area.
The Wolong Nature Reserve has four general regions:
1. Mountain slopes covered in deciduous and coniferous forests as well as bamboo groves
2. River valleys, where most of the people live and farm
3. High alpine slopes above the tree line where wildflowers grow and yaks live
4. 20 glacier-covered mountain peaks over 4,000 m above sea level
The Wolong Nature Reserve covers 1,999km2 and includes coniferous and deciduous forest, river valleys, alpine slopes, and high glacier-covered mountain peaks.
The Legend of Wolong
Wo Long means ˇ°sleeping dragonˇ± and is a description of the mountainous peaks surrounding the Pitiao River valley. These mountains run through the center of the Wolong Nature Reserve. The local Qiang people believe a giant dragon came wandering through the valley and fell in love with the beauty of the mountains and trees. The dragon decided to go to sleep and then never woke up.
The People of Wolong
Four ethnic groups of people live in and around Wolong Nature Reserve: Qiang, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and Hui.
The Qiang people are the main ethnic group living in the Reserve. They have lived in the region for several thousand years. They live in the main Pitiao River valley that runs from northeast to southwest through Wolong. Older people still wear traditional clothing of blue and white cloth, goatskin vests, and cloth head wrappings. The Qiang are famous for their embroidered cloth belts and crafts. Most Qiang are farmers. Some raise honeybees. Others run small shops and restaurants in the reserve's two main villages, Geng Da and Wo Long.
The Qiang travel into the high mountains during the summer months. They bring their beehives so the honeybees can collect pollen from summer flowers. In these high mountains, they meet many Tibetans who still herd their yaks in the summer pastures.
A Very Diverse Place
Wolong is a beautiful place full of rare mammals, beautiful birds, insects, and plants found nowhere else in the world. Wolong Nature Reserve covers an area of 1,999 km2 and contains 17% of the biodiversity found in China. This means it is an extremely important place to protect. Since 1963, the Wolong Nature Reserve has been protected by law. Hunting and logging are not allowed. Collecting plants in the forest is controlled and regulated.
A Protected Place for Endangered Species
Rare wildlife and plants live in Wolong Nature Reserve. In addition to the giant panda, other endangered species like the snow leopard, red panda, golden snub-nose monkey, Asiatic black bear, and dove tree survive in Wolong. Wolong is home to over 6,000 species (4,000 plants, 450 vertebrates, and 1,700 invertebrates). Other species such as yaks and goats are herded by local Tibetan people in Wolong's high mountains.
The Four Seasons
Wolong has four distinct seasons. In the spring, from April to June, the steep mountain slopes are covered with the bright purple and pink blossoms of rhododendron trees. Summer lasts from June to September. It is warm and humid in the valleys and clear in the high mountains. Occasionally, sudden summer snowstorms occur in the mountains. Fall begins in October, when leaves begin turning red, yellow, and orange. Visitors come from all over the world to see the beautiful scenery. Few people visit Wolong in the winter when it is cold and wet. Snow falls in the mountains, but often it only rains in the valleys. Wolong receives over 170 cm of precipitation each year.
Working to Help Animals
Wolong is most famous for its giant pandas. To help pandas survive, the Chinese government and other concerned groups built a special breeding center inside the Wolong Nature Reserve. The center is called the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.
The Center cares for several red pandas and over 50 captive giant pandas. Many were rescued after an injury or illness. Each year new giant panda babies are born to female pandas at the center. Scientists study the captive pandas to learn more about how wild panda mothers raise their babies. The scientists hope this information will help save pandas from extinction.
The Center is the most successful facility in the world for breeding giant pandas. Most of the giant pandas in zoos around the world come from Wolong.
Working to Help the Environment
The Conservation Center also conducts important research on the surrounding environment. Scientists believe it is important to understand the whole environment and all its species. For example, scientists study the bamboo groves around Wolong. Bamboo is the favorite food of both the giant panda and red panda. Scientists can make better decisions about how to save the giant panda and other endangered plants and animals.