Project Panda: Searching for Chengdu Pambassador – China

During summer 2010 the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched online the Project Panda: Searching for Chengdu Pambassadors to select 12 giant panda lovers to live a one in a lifetime experience in China. After a strict process I was selected as one of the top twelve Panda Ambassador finalists among 60,000 participants from all over the world.

To learn more about my experience read the diary I wrote and explore China and giant pandas through the pictures.

    September 22nd

After arriving in Chengdu at 9.00 am, and having a rest, we enjoyed the welcoming party at 7.00 pm. Today Chinese people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is one of the most important festival of China. We had the opportunity to meet the host families that are going to take care of us during our stay in Chengdu and to spend time with them talking about ourselves and local traditions while tasting the typical food of the festival, such as the delicious “mooncakes”. At the end of the festival each family fired a red lantern and watched it lifting off in the deep night sky.

    September 23rd

At 7.30 in the morning, our host families picked us up at the hotel and brought us to Chengdu Panda Base. Before the welcoming ceremony we met the giant pandas for the first time, we saw them in their typical routine eating bamboo, playing and sleeping. Giant pandas have a huge space full of vegetation and environmental enrichments provided them to give pandas stimulation. After the first encounter we attended an explanation about the history and the research carried out in the Center. The three main goals of the Center are: research, conservation and education. For what concern research, the Panda Center is working on projects such as genetic research, behavior research, conservation education and reintroduction of the species into the wild which is the ultimate goal. At 11.00 am we participated in the welcoming ceremony where everybody got the chance to make a self introduction and explain our main interests to the audience. Right after we were divided into three groups composed by four people each to have the opportunity to work as a team for the all week. In the afternoon we first attended a lecture about the safety practices principles necessary during the first contacts with pandas and we were introduced to the twelve pandas we will be taking care of during this week. The experts provided us a “self-introduction” of each panda in order to be able to recognize them. Next step was meeting them. We saw them eating their favourite food. Their diet is 99% bamboo and they have a sixth finger called “false” thumb which they use to grab bamboo while eating. At the end of the visit we were explained the procedures of cleaning bamboo and preparing panda bread, activities we will experience on the following days.

    September 24th

Today each group had the opportunity to prepare food for pandas, clean the enclosures and feed them. In the morning we went to the panda kitchen to learn how to prepare panda cakes.
Panda cake is a mixture of seeds, cereals and corn mixed with water and then baked in the oven for one hour. After mixing the ingredients in a bin by using a mixer machine and adding some water, we put the dough for panda cakes into bowls. Each of us had to put the dough into panda cake shapes and then put the unbaked cakes on a pan. Then we put each pan in the oven to bake the cakes. Once done we experienced cleaning bamboo. The experts told us information about eight different species of bamboo. They can be easily recognized because they have different leaves size, different thickness of the steam, some of them have thorns on the steam and others have typical nodes on it. Pandas can recognize bamboo as well, they prefer some species instead of others and before eating they smell the bamboo to check if it is old or not, because they prefer the younger ones. The cleaning procedure consisted in washing the steams by using high water pressure first and then gently removing the mud leftovers on the leaves with low water pressure so.
Before lunch we attended an interactive presentation about pandas biological concepts.
In the afternoon we first cleaned the Moon nursery by picking up giant pandas feces and then we put them in plastic bags for analysis tests. During this procedure pandas were kept in internal enclosures. After letting them out we fed them from an elevated passageway. We gave to Jing Jing and Shu Yun apples and cakes by sticking them on the top of a bamboo steam so that we could reach the pandas.
In the late afternoon we moved to WWF office based in Chengdu where we attended a presentation on the status and conditions of wild giant pandas. The experts talked us about the distribution of wild pandas, how their areas have become smaller and how we can help pandas with just simple actions, such as not buying related products or by encouraging local communities to support panda conservation.

    September 25th

This morning we reached the Chengdu Field Research Center for Giant Pandas or Panda Valley, located in Dujiangyan. The experts informed us about the goal of the Center which is to care of giant pandas by working on their conservation which can be ex-situ or in-situ. Pambassadors are considered a “bridge” between conservation and people because they can interact with the public and make them understand how important is to protect the environment.
The Field Center is divided into three areas: the first one is the Reintroduction area, where pandas from Chengdu Panda Base will be able to live for a while – once the Field Center will be completed (2013); the second one is the Semi-wild area where the interactions between pandas and people will be limited; the third area is the Wild area. Behavioral studies carried out in the second area will determine which pandas will be able to move to this area. Only few experts will be able to enter this area in order to avoid contacts with pandas and let them leave in the wild. The Panda Valley has four or five bamboo species and others will be planted soon.
After the presentation we got the chance to plant bamboo with our host families.
In the afternoon we visited the park of Dujiangyan. We had the opportunity to admire Chinese temples from the outside and to see the dam of Dujiangyan. The original river which flows through Dujiangyan city was divided in two branches. The new artificial branch is deeper than the original and let the pure water reach Chengdu city.

    September 26th

Today we spent all the day with our host families. It has been a beautiful day because I got the chance to know them better. In the morning we went to Jinsha Site Museum in Chengdu; it was built on an archaeological site recently discovered. The site is approximately 3000-4000 years old. We saw many ancient tools, weapons and jewelleries used by local people who lived here and my host family got to tell me everything they knew of this piece of history. A lot of fossils were also preserved, such as elephant fans, human skeletons, trunks and roots. The most famous object was the “sun bird”, a thin gold-paper circle which is the symbol of Chengdu. At noon we moved to my host family’s house where I met their relatives. We cooked Sichuan typical food we ate all together. We also celebrated my “host family sister’s” birthday party!
In the afternoon we went to Wangjiang Lou Gongyuan Park, a beautiful park next to Chengdu river. While visiting the park we gave people Chengdu Panda Base fliers and posters and invited them to sign one panda poster. We informed them about the competition and the goal of this project in order to make people aware of giant pandas status and environment problems. Then we also publicize panda protection in Sichuan University; all the students we talked to were not familiar with this competition so we got the chance to spread our message and encourage them to take action in saving the pandas and their environment.
In the evening we visited the smallest street of Chengdu. It is a narrow street full of local shops and local places where you can try Sichuan food.
For dinner we went to a restaurant where I tried for the first time the “hot pot”. It consists in a pot placed in the middle of the table where you can cook by yourself. It was fun and interesting at the same time because I got to know another local tradition.

    September 27th

This morning we worked in Chengdu Panda Base. We cleaned the panda nursery enclosures, we collected feces and we removed all the old bamboo, then we washed the floor with water.
After that until noon, all teams worked to build a panda platform. We used trunks, ropes and nails to made them and some experts showed us how to assemble the parts together. By the end of the task each team made an environmental enrichment to pandas where they can keep busy as if they were in the wild.
In the afternoon we spent time in the panda nursery. We poured water on them to keep them cool and prepared food to feed them. We gave them a panda cake each, some apple and we threw bamboo shoots in the enclosures. They must be thrown randomly to make pandas exercises while looking for them and let them develop their mental skills.

    September 28th

Today we spent time at the Panda Base. In the morning we got the chance to watch some young cubs in the incubators. A keeper took one baby at a time and helped them to let feces and urine go out of their body by stimulating the area around their excretory system since they were not able to defecate or urinate by themselves. In the wild the mother licks the body of the cub and that action helps to stimulate them. Then we had the opportunity to hold panda cubs; in order to keep them quite keepers gave them bamboo with honey on top. They seemed interested in us, they sniffed our faces and looked at us to understand who we were.
Before lunch we could share to the public all we had learnt this week at the Panda Base about pandas and conservation. We formed six groups composed of two people and each of us had a topic to talk about. My partner and I talked to visitors about panda food, we explained them how make panda cakes and how to feed pandas, we talked about bamboo cleaning practice, and what kind of species giant pandas prefer to eat.
In the afternoon we worked with our host families on our personal performance we will show on the final competition day.

    September 29th

The final Competition for the panda ambassador selection took place on our last day at the Chengdu Panda Base. All the contestants had to complete a series of tasks scored by a panel of judges. The finalists with the highest scores were Ali Shakorian from Sweden, Ashley Robertson from USA, David Algranti from France, Huang Xi from China, Wang Yuwen from Taiwan and Yumiko Kajiwara from Japan.


To learn more about Chengdu Panda Base visit:

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