Chengdu, Land of the Panda


I'm writing this as my overnight train leaves Chengdu in Sichuan, central China. 14hrs and just over 600kms later will see me arrive in Xi'an.

It's the start of just over two weeks exploring mainland China, ending with a few days in Hong Kong. I'm going to share some of the highlights of the trip as well as reviewing the photo gear I have brought along. For this adventure I'm packing relatively light - for me! - with only a Canon 5DSR, 50mm f/1.8, 16-35 f/4, 24-70 f/2.8 Tamron & a 70-200 f/4. It's also my first time using my infrared-converted 500D. More about the gear later... Onto the adventure!

The biggest draw Chengdu has are the Giant Pandas. Sichuan province has 85% of all of the 2000 remaining pandas in the world with a few hundred scattered around the various research based in the region. Touring one of these research centres was where I started, bright and early - feeding time is about 9am and although the panda are more active in winter (they prefer the cold!) they sleep for 12-14 hours a day.

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Pandas are only fertile for three days a year and the females, who run the show, are famously picky. This & their legendary laziness is partly why they are dying out. Even though twin & triplet births are common, the mother tends to only look after the strongest baby, letting the others die to ensure one survives.

Fed, watered... Even your breeding is taken care of. Hard life, eh? 

Fed, watered... Even your breeding is taken care of. Hard life, eh? 

Turns out Pandas look just the same in infra-red as they do normally! 

Turns out Pandas look just the same in infra-red as they do normally! 

The research centres can successfully look after these "orphaned" babies. As well as human feeding, they can sedate the mothers and swap around each of the babies so they are each nursed in turn. The survival rate for younger twin/triplet babies goes from 0% to 100% - quite a useful improvement when we are trying to save the species. All of this means the Chengdu Panda Research Base has almost 10% of the total panda population under care... And a lot of super cute, baby panda cubs!

The 70-200 was the lens of choice today, giving the reach needed. Any longer would have been too long to show the animal plus its habitat. 

The 70-200 was the lens of choice today, giving the reach needed. Any longer would have been too long to show the animal plus its habitat. 

They are in large, spacious enclosures and are rotated around them every few weeks to give them some variety. Although their senses of smell and hearing are great their vision is dreadful, only working out to a couple of metres. What surprised me was how close we get to the panda, just barely three or four metres away,

Two competitive siblings having a tree-climbing competition. 

Two competitive siblings having a tree-climbing competition. 

Chengdu itself is an industrial town, nowadays centered around building parts for planes and cars. The pandas are the biggest tourist draw by far but I also spent time touring the Wenshu Buddhist temple before trying the local bamboo tea. Set in an open-air courtyard with old men sitting & chatting the afternoon away. Nice to see but not as interesting as the panda.

Which brings me up to now, on the overnight train. Without wifi I'm not sure if/when I will be able to post this but I'll keep trying. Tomorrow is Xi'an and the Terracotta warriors.