Ever since my first visit to China last year, I’ve been dying to see the home of the panda in Chendgu, Sichuan. While pandas can be seen in zoos across the world, Chengdu is a natural sanctuary and inhabits 80 of the 1600 wild pandas left in the world. To see pandas and to “hug a panda” was number one on my MUST DO in China list this year. And I’m extremely lucky to have found Ao Li Ao, the 9 month old cub, and experience the once in a lifetime opportunity of interacting with this incredibly soft and noble, lovable and harmless giant of an animal. It was love at first sight.
Yes, it does seem like Ao Li Ao and I were separated at birth 🙂
Ao Li Ao’s B-form, birth details.
The panda was heavier than I expected! At around 22kg, he kept sliding off and I had to hook an arm under his and hold onto him to prevent him from falling. Ao Li Ao was obviously used to photos and strangers because he was most comfortable going from one lap to another, as long as he had his bamboo shoots to munch on. As soon as his food was finished though, he would start a tantrum (just like a baby who’s bottle has been taken away) until the trainers would quickly hand him another branch. Pandas eat an average of 20 kilos of bamboo a day and this one was just too cute!
Even if you don’t want to pay to “hug a panda” (it is expensive and I presume the cost will hike each year as pandas become more and more endangered) there are enough pandas to see in the sanctuary. We saw many sleeping on trees (they hang like towels, completely still yet fluffy) and others sitting on their rafty thrones eating away. The only three things panda do are eat, poop and sleep.
How many times have people/friends asked you in your life, “If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?” And you may have responded, “bird, butterfly, fish” etc. Well, after visiting the Giant Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu (China’s Sichuan province) I know that if I had a chance to be reincarnated as an animal, it would be a Giant Panda. I feel I’m already half way there.
Spot the pandas in the tree.
Note to tourists: If you do manage to travel to Chengdu for the pandas then book yourself at the Crowne Plaze Hotel five minutes away from the panda sanctuary. The pandas are awake from 9 to 11 every morning, after which they go back to sleep when it gets hot so your window of opportunity is extremely slim. You have to be early to catch, especially hug them!