Playing with Pandas: A day at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding


Well, wasn't that fun?!
Well, wasn't that fun?!

The city of Chengdu is, to many, synonymous with pandas. The entire city is branded with panda icons. From the first visions an arriving passenger gets at the airport to shops and signs around town, the adorable, oval face is omnipresent. And with a relatively quick taxi or subway/bus ride to the north of town the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is easily accessible for visitors.

The facility is relatively spread out, with a mix of red pandas (they look more like foxes or felines) and giant pandas (the black and white ones most associate with the name). The giant pandas are closer to the entrance while the red pandas are housed more towards the rear of the facility.

Welcome to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Welcome to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

The red pandas are generally more active though the giant pandas we saw were mostly up and about, even with a mid-day arrival at the park (most advice says to arrive early for prime activity levels).

One of the red pandas, hanging out up in a tree. The other reds we saw were more active
One of the red pandas, hanging out up in a tree. The other reds we saw were more active.

Indeed, a few of the juvenile pandas were very active in a rather amorous manner. The crowds in this section were larger, to say the least. To be fair, it was one of the spots where the humans and bears were closest to each other without filthy windows to separate them so it was good for photographs. As was the behavior.

Welcome to the menage-a-panda experience!
Welcome to the menage-a-panda experience!
The adolescent giant pandas begin to get more amorous
The adolescent giant pandas begin to get more amorous
Well, wasn't that fun?!
Well, wasn’t that fun?!
Oh, my! I didn't realize we had friends watching!!
Oh, my! I didn’t realize we had friends watching!!


At the end of the day it is worth remembering that the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is mostly a large zoo. We saw one handler inspecting the teeth of a giant panda, using food to tease/attract the animal to a door where he could poke around. Fortunately the food was delivered to the bear once the checkup was complete.

The red pandas are cuter than the giant pandas. Yeah, I went there.
The red pandas are cuter than the giant pandas. Yeah, I went there.

It is neat to see the pandas in various phases of their lives and I’m certain that some research and breeding happens. Mostly because you can pay $300ish to have a photo taken with a baby panda. I still don’t really understand the appeal of that, particularly give the cost and that it is just a photo without any real interaction time. But it is an option; book in advance.

More red panda action at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
More red panda action at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was relatively crowded on the random December Saturday we visited but not so overwhelming that it prevented seeing the animals in action. Some of the pens were more challenged than others (especially where the pandas were more sexually active) but walking around led us to quieter views that were also interesting.

The airport (and most the rest of town) uses the giant panda for branding in one form or another.
The airport (and most the rest of town) uses the giant panda for branding in one form or another.

As touristing in Chengdu goes I’d say the pandas visit is a good thing to do, but only for an hour or two. We spent just over an hour at the facility and that was plenty to see some pandas and walk around. Pairing it with a visit to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System UNESCO World Heritage Site about an hour away makes for a more full day of exploring; that side trip is well worthwhile and at least to me, far more interesting than the panda zoo.



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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .
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