There are believed to be only around 1,800 pandas left in the wild, mainly in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Shaanxi, with a further 300 or so more in zoos or wildlife centres. Of these, around 80 are here at the reserve, 1100 metres above sea level.
You will be involved with feeding and cleaning the panda enclosures, and you will be in extremely close proximity to them. You’ll prepare food for the pandas such as apples, panda bread, carrots – and of course their favourite – bamboo, serving them the food, cleaning their enclosures and ensuring they are secure in their environment. You can also help the staff to improve their English, something they’ll be very grateful for.
This is not a hands-on project for the safety of both yourself (we promised your mum you’d return with all your limbs) and for the pandas, due to the risk of bacteria/virus transmission.
The Panda reserve which you can tour for free as a volunteer has panda raising, reproduction, rare wild animal rescue and education facilities. During your stay you may also be asked to conduct some research into their habits and health, so that we may extend our knowledge and caring activities for this highly endangered species. If you are interested in animal conservation, this represents a real opportunity to learn about something unique to China – the Giant Panda.
Day 1 and 2 (Sunday/Monday)
Arrive at Chengdu Shuang Liu Airport (CTU) where you’ll be picked up and taken to our city hostel where you’ll stay for 2 nights.
On Monday we’ll explore the fascinating markets and spacious parks of Chengdu as well as famous Kuanzhai Alley. It is a requirement that all volunteers are healthy to work with pandas and we’ll arrange a check-up and doctors note at a cost of approx $40, payable locally. In the evening the group will enjoy a welcome dinner together before we head out to the panda reserve on Tuesday.
Day 3-6 (Tues-Fri)
After breakfast we'll head to the project site in the mountains, a journey of up to 3 hours. Here at the reserve, after settling in and enjoying lunch you will meet the project staff and panda keepers and commence your volunteer program. Tuesday afternoon is your orientation briefing which will take you through what to expect from your time here, the dos and don’ts and important safety matters. At this time we’ll also complete the Chinese government formalities and you’ll receive your work uniform. We’ll then tour the facility and you’ll meet the pandas for the first time.
You will work as an assistant to the Panda Keeper, and your duties include cleaning enclosures, preparing food, chopping and carrying bamboo and assisting with feeding. By engaging in these vital tasks you’ll be able to observe the pandas from very close up. The task schedule is spread throughout the day, and between stints there is plenty of free time for you to enjoy your surroundings. As a volunteer you are granted free access to all areas of the panda reserve, there are lots of trails nearby for a hike, or kick back and enjoy a game of table tennis or mah-jong. Have fun and learn some Chinese with the free language lessons each afternoon.
Day 7 (Saturday)
At the end of your program you will depart the Panda Base early on the Saturday morning – if flying straight out of Chengdu we recommend a late afternoon flight departure, not before 3pm. Alternatively, you may like to head back for a night or two in Chengdu city (accommodation at your own cost). You could visit one of the many parks in Chengdu, have a drink on the river, eat the traditional Sichuan Hot Pot, watch the locals play mah-jong, get a massage or viisit the Sichuan opera with traditional ’face changing’ masks.
Accommodation is a twin-share room in a comfortable hotel near the panda reserve. You’ll have a private bathroom with hot shower, fan-cooling, wifi and a TV. Electric blankets are provided to keep you warm in winter.
For the first two nights in Chengdu, hostel-style bunk accommodation (same-sex sharing) is provided – sharing with 3-7 others – and shared bathrooms. A private room upgrade option is available on request.
All meals are included and provided for you either on-site or at a local restaurant. Meals will be typical Sichuan Chinese cuisine – you should expect lots of rice, noodles and vegetables with some meat.
What to pack
Weather in the mountains is changeable and is often chilly and wet. Waterproof clothing (gumboots and a rainjacket) is recommended at all times of year.
Winters (December to February) are very cold – bring warm clothes. Summers are hot and humid.
Bedding is provided, but bring a towel with you
Working with animals you’ll need clothes and shoes that are strong and durable. Take old clothes that you don't mind getting dirty, comfy hiking shoes are essential.
Don't forget your camera, music and some books to read while relaxing in the evenings and a torch may well come in handy with the temperamental electricity supply.