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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fat Big Panda in Chengdu

Once upon a time, a French priest visited a farmer in Chengdu and found a black and white fur of a bear-like animal. As he has never seen that kind of animal, he asked the farmer. The farmer said it was a Fat ("pan" in Chinese) and Big ("da" in Chinese) bear. The priest then spread the word, from there on the bear is called Panda (Fat Big).

Pandas are fat because of their laid back lifestyle, and they eat a lot. Every day a panda eats around 25 kg of bamboos, which is about a quarter of its weight. Why they eat so much bamboo? It is because bamboo has very little nutritional element, so in order to meet the energy needs, pandas must eat a lot of them. Not surprisingly they poo a lot too.

Pandas, million years ago, used to eat meat, they were carnivores, however during the evolution process, they switched to bamboo. It seems that they could not survive competing to search for meat with other more aggressive animals in the wilderness. Not every type of bamboo they can eat, only several types, and they like especially the young soothes.  As they eat bamboos a lot, the ecosystem they live must have plenty of bamboos that they can eat, a slight distortion to the ecosystem, flood, earth quake, fire etc. can quickly deplete the bamboos. This means the pandas must migrate to some other place to find food.

Pandas really look lazy, they spend a lot of time on their back eating bamboo, if not eating they are sleeping. Except for the cubs which are quite playful with each others. At this young age, the cubs like to play, run, climb trees, but as they turned into adult, they become solitaire.  The adult pandas like to live alone in their own compound, eating , wandering and sleeping alone in their compound. So solitaire, it is even very hard to get them mating. There is a very short mating period of a few days in a year.  And it is not easy to make them mating, if failed they have to wait for the next year, probably with a different partner. Thus it makes it hard to grow the population of this already endangered species.

Therefore, the China Government opened the Panda Breeding Base in Chengdu to breed pandas in captive, through scientific research of the pandas mating behaviour and in vitro fertilization. This way the they managed to increase the population of pandas from around 800 in in 1970s to around 1,800 currently.

In this Panda Breeding Base there are a few panda cubs displayed for tourists. The queue during peak seasons is very long as there are too many people wanting to watch and photograph the pandas. Although there are quite many spots to watch pandas, the spot for watching the cubs are the favourite. Tourists used to be allowed to hug cubs for photography, by donating around RMB 1,800 for a few minutes hugging. But nowadays it is no more allowed to avoid the spread of epidemic to the panda cubs due to the contact. It seems that certain virus or bacteria which are not harmful to human can be harmful to pandas.

Pandas have bad sight, only a few meters, so they cannot see the crowd. Flash lights are not allowed to be used when photographing pandas to avoid harm to their eyes. Pandas rely on their smell, and they have good geographical memory by marking their territory with their poo or urine. That is how the pandas maintain their solitary confinement, they wouldn't enter a place that does not smell like them.

Pandas are also sensitive to parasites in their fur which can even cause death to the pandas. In nature, muds and soils cover their fur to protect them from these parasites. That’s why the panda furs here in China look a bit brownish rather than pure white, especially the back part including the tail. Beware that panda tails are always white, not black as appears on some panda dolls in the souvenir shops.

Beware also that the panda furs in Singapore zoo look relatively clean white, so it seems the pandas here has artificially clean appearance. Like anything else artificial in Singapore, so is the habitat of the panda compound. The compound is air-conditioned, the plants are decorated and arranged for the convenience of tourists. But it is really nice and convenient to watch.

For China , the black and white colour of pandas is a symbol of Yin and Yang concept, the balance of positive and negative, high and low, hot and cold, mountain and river, modern and traditional. This balance of Yin and Yang is reflected in the peaceful and cute appearance of the panda, becomes a symbol of peace and harmony for China. China promotes peace and harmony by sending several young pandas on load to foreign countries. The pandas however remain to belong to China, including their offspring born in foreign country. So practically there is no pandas living in the nature outside China, and those living in captives belong to China. This way Panda is a unique symbol of China, both biologically and culturally.

The pandas living in captives will not survive in the wilderness, as they become too protected and pampered by human. They are not trained to look for food themselves, they are hard to mate and have babies. In captives the babies are taken care of by human, given milk and medical assistance for the babies to grow. Otherwise the babies rarely survive, and the mother does not know breed babies. In nature, if the mother gives birth of two babies, she will take one and abandoned the other one, as if she knows that only one can survive.

The human assistance seems now a necessity for pandas survival, although they have survived millions of years. Perhaps if living in nature with depleted bamboos, they have to change their diet once more.