One cannot come to China and not have panda-watching as part of their list of things to do, and there is no better place to see Pandas in China than in the Sichuan province, inside and all around the city of Chengdu.
Anyone who knows about panda bears knows that they’re a species at risk of extinction, with less than 2,000 actual pandas currently living out in the wild. So it is no surprise that panda bears need to be assisted to reproduce to later populate protected areas.
“WTF, assisted to reproduce???” I hear you ask…
Yes…. panda bears need to be assisted so that they can reproduce.
The Problem With Panda Sex
The thing with panda sex is that, well, it’s complicated. For starters, the female ovulation only last a mere 72 hours every year, and it is only during these same 72 hours that female pandas will want to have sex, no more no less.
But it’s not only a female-panda issue, but once the time of the year comes (anytime between February and May), male pandas will assert their dominance over other males during that same period of time, to see who “gets it on with the lady”. The problem with males doesn’t end there, as there is also the fact that male pandas have the smallest wieners in the animal kingdom, so pandas actually going all the way is not even a guarantee at that point.
Finally, when baby pandas are born, they do not actually look like cute small baby pandas, but more like an almost hairless oversized pink rat. So panda moms freak out and start beating their young, often even killing them.
So yes, pandas do need assistance to reproduce, and for their young to remain alive.
Luckily, there are many breeding facilities in and around Chengdu that do just that, and have allowed for the population of panda bears to continue to increase around the world.
Bifengxia Panda Base
Wanting to avoid the possible crowds at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, I decided to instead go to the Bifengxia Panda Base.
The Bifengxia Panda Base is located about 30 minutes north of Ya’an, the latter being a 2-hour long bus ride from Chengdu.
After an almost sleepless night and a very early morning wake up, I started to realize that I might be coming down with a cold. Too stupid to listen to my own body, I still made my way to the Xinnanmen Bus Station to catch the next bus to Ya’an, a bus in which I managed to sleep for the 2 hours the ride lasted.
At the Ya’an bus station, it took a little going around to figure out which buses went to Bifengxia. After avoiding all the touts, I finally figured that the minibuses are across the bus station on the side of the main street.
The Bifengxia Panda Base is separated in two; one section granting access to the gorge where all the panda bears are housed and cared for (¥118), and the other a zoo (which I didn’t go to because pandas…).
There are many panda bears roaming freely, through designated areas, throughout the reserve. A most curious moment happened when, while walking on a path, a panda appeared out of nowhere on top of a hill right in front of me! Even though I had failed to notice that there was a space limiting where the panda could actually go, it was still quite an awesome feeling to see the animals roaming around freely and seemly happy.
Bifengxia Panda Base vs. Chengdu Research Base
I chose to go to Bifengxia Panda Base instead of the Chengdu Research Base to avoid the crowds as well as to get out of the city. However the almost-3-hour-long trip to get from Chengdu to the base might not be that all worth it to do on a one-day trip.
The city of Ya’an seems quite charming and offers a rural feel that the big city of Chengdu does not. There are possibilities of staying both in Ya’an and inside the Bifengxia Panda base, with various hotels inside and outside the complex.
At the time I went, the Bifengxia Panda Base did not showcase any baby pandas or red pandas, both of which could be seen at the Chengdu Research Base. Here is some info on how to get to both:
Bifengxia Panda Base:
From the Xinnanmen Bus Station buy a ticket to Ya’an (雅安市) on the second floor, the ride takes about 2 hours and costs ¥48. Once in Ya’an, leave the station and walk towards the main road; on the right side there will be a group of minibuses lined up, one of which will have a direction to Bifengxia (碧峰峡) and costs ¥6.
Chengdu Research Base:
Take Line 3 of the subway and get off at the Zoo station and follow signs for Exit A. Once outside, look for the bus stop of line 655 going towards the northeast, and get off 4 stops later at the XiongMao Jidi Zhan stop.
Did you know that “panda bear” in Chinese is translated to “bear cat”? Pandas, and China, sometimes make no sense…. Do you like panda bears?