Since we have known each other we have always dreamed to get closer to giant pandas! They were on our bucket list for very long time. We are pretty sure that everyone would agree how pandas are incredibly cute. They sleep a lot and eat tons of bamboo! (40 kilos per day). They absolutely love napping and they are a bit lazy which make their whole day. To go more into detail they also poop a lot (30 kilos per day) but we don’t have to know everything.

When we were planning our greatest adventure in China we simply couldn’t miss them. We searched the internet and we found out that there are many popular volunteering programs for foreigners in pandas sanctuaries where you can actually help them with daily caring. Isn’t this cool? We would like to share our experience with you.

How to choose a panda volunteering program

In China there are travel agencies to offer panda caring programs. We were choosing between China Travel and China Highlights . There are many others but the two are said to be the best and they have the most positive reviews based on our research. At the end we chose to go with China Travel because they were less expensive than China Highlights. On the other hand, China Highlights has recently added two more options at the Wolong panda base. The place was completely destroyed during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 but now it is fully working again. Next time we would probably go to Wolong as this base is in heart of Sichuan mountains.

So we chose 1-Day Dujiangyan Panda Keeper Program Tour which suited our needs because we were traveling across China and we had only limited time for Chengdu. If you have more days to spend you can choose bigger packages and spend with pandas more days. We would say that the most interesting option is to work as a panda nanny but it is also the most expensive. You simply have to decide according to your budget.

Where to go

It is not surprising that giant panda homeworld is only in the Sichuan province in Southwest China. This beautiful piece of land is completely surrounded by mountains where wild pandas can live freely. Also, most of panda bases are located here. It is true that you can see other pandas in many Zoos around the world but you can’t get much closer. This awesome experience is only exclusive to the Sichuan province.

You have to travel to Chengdu first to see your pandas. The lucky ones have direct flights to Chengdu. Others less fortunate will have to fly here from other Chinese cities. Anyway, we recommend to book your tour in advance. This is strongly advised because panda tours are now the most popular cool thing to do and they are sold out pretty quickly.

1-Day Dujiangyan Panda Keeper Program Tour

We woke up at our Buddha Zen Hotel in the morning and we were picked up by our guide. It was a nice one hour way from Chengdu to the Dujiangyan Panda Base. The panda base is located on the back hills of Qingcheng Mountain. The trip was very refreshing after concrete cities like Chengdu. We have to say that the base is super modern and they nicely take care of it. After all, giant pandas are their national treasure and they are like VIPs in 5-star hotels.

the entrance to the chengdu panda breeding research center
The entrance to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center

Once we arrived, we received guest cards and nice green t-shirts to look like true panda keepers or perhaps to camouflage ourselves in the forest so pandas don’t notice us, ha ha ha! They also split up all people into groups after 5 because the daily limit is just 30 persons. Then they showed us the whole sanctuary for pandas. It is a big park full of pandas. In the morning we could even see some of them because they are still active. They stay like this until noon when they are more about chilling and they sleep a lot.

The introduction was really nice and we felt like panda keepers really do a great job here. Pandas have their own names and the local staff know them by heart. We saw many pandas from different backgrounds. As you know China lends some pandas and we saw some that already returned from their travels around the world. Every panda has to return at 4 years old so they can breed which is the main reason for them to go back because pandas are vulnerable. Though their situation is getting much better and they have been more and more reintroduced into the wild recently.

We also learned about some injured or sick pandas. Especially there are many injured pandas! They really love climbing trees and they are really good at it from 7 months old. Still, there are some pandas, the special ones, which can’t climb so well and they fall a lot. Such a fall can cause pretty bad injury. We saw a couple of such climbers with bandages. They probably tried to climb Mount Everest, lol. Nevertheless, they still look extremely cute even with bandages.

Then we spent some time doing a hard work by cleaning enclosures! We quickly learned how to shovel their poop and clean the rest of bamboo they left. Pandas are extremely picky and they only eat 20 species of bamboo out of 200! It may also happen that one week they like one type and another they don’t like it anymore. Imagine to have one very own panda, we bet that it would ruin you in few days!

Cleaning panda waste is a real hard work!

Before lunch we spent some time preparing bamboo by chopping it so pandas can chew it more easily. It was quite fun because we could see panda faces behind bars trying to get the best sight of the bamboo. They were really hungry and we were preparing them their snack. We were sure that without bars they would probably eat us all. Around this time our big moment came and we had our first chance to feed them. It was great experience we must say. You feed them from very short distance and even though they stay behind fence you are still as close to them as you can only get. Amazing! Our panda was a bit hungry and after gesticulating strongly it just picked up our bamboo and ate it.

Debora feeding panda
Feeding our panda

After few amazing moments with our panda we had lunch in the local canteen and watched a nice documentary about the pandas survival. Overall the documentary took an hour. Some time ago giant pandas were really badly endangered but since 2019 their categorization has been changed to “vulnerable” thanks to great conservation efforts. Great job, congratulations! When the documentary finished, we moved to the kitchen where we started cooking panda snacks! We enjoyed it so much that some of us showed real cooking skills but not sure if pandas appreciated it!

panda snacks ready to go
Panda snacks ready to go

Then we moved closer to enclosures to feed pandas again! They were ready to us behind bars. We gave them what we had, waved at our fluffy bears for the last time and left. After their full lunch most of them started chilling and napping.

Don’t forget to have somebody with you to take pictures. You can take as many as you want! Some time ago you could even hug your panda but this has been forbidden recently.

Overall, it was very unique experience. You won’t have it anywhere in the world except of breed stations around Chengdu. We definitely recommend going. Though very expensive experience, don’t forget that all money go to conservation efforts and to people who are working hard on protecting the cutest animals in the world.

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