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Pandas International's Suzanne Braden's 2011 Trip to China

Posted by Jeroen Jacobs | Date: 2011 10 01 | In: Giant Panda News


Day One

Dr. Tang receiving
medical supplies

I left Chengdu this morning and after lunch visited the old town of Shang Li. It’s a well preserved town site with bridges at least 500 years old in the Bi Feng gorge. I than arrived at the Bifengxia Panda Center and immediately met Dr. Wang to deliver the Distemper Vaccinations. This was good timing as he repackaged some for one of the caretakers to take Thursday morning to Giant Pandas in another city. Dr. Wang was very pleased to receive them. I was very pleased that the ice gel packs were still in good condition and the vaccines were still cool! I also delivered worming paste to Dr. Tang and one of the other vets.

The Access China Tour group went to the volunteer office and got their work overalls and volunteer badges so they would be ready to work the next day.

Day Two

Zhang Kha

Zhang Ka

The Milk Formula arrived yesterday. Customs must have been waiting for me to arrive before they released it. The arrival was just in time because the reserve was getting very low and the one year olds needed their milk. A big thank you to Cindy Lo for all her hard work on this project!

Monitoring Zhang Ka

Monitoring Zhang Ka

The drive up to Bifengxia from Ya’an took longer than normal. There were two problems: one, the corn had been harvested and kernels removed from the cob. The right lane of the road was being used for drying corn on straw mats; second, the constant rock and mud slides have caused large piles of rocks to accumulate in one lane. In one spot the downhill lane was about half gone so the road was down to one lane in several places. Rains not only create problems for travel but also for the Giant Pandas by damaging their bamboo.

Zhang Kha on monitor

Zhang Ka on monitor

Thursday morning I observed the volunteers from Access China Tours. Sometimes they get off to a slow start. Overall, I think they were overwhelmed being so close to the Pandas and surprised at the amount of panda poop they were cleaning up but everyone seemed thrilled with the experience.

In the afternoon I went with Huang Yan to the enclosure of Zhang Ka, the one panda who has so far given birth at Bifengxia. They have turned one of the large enclosures into a semi-wild enclosed area and built artificial dens where she gave birth. Zhang Ka had twins so the other twin is being raised in the Nursery in an incubator provided by Pandas International.

Zhang Kha on monitor

Zhang Ka twin in incubator

Zhang Ka and her cubs are monitored constantly from the office where there are numerous cameras focused on the enclosure. Zhang Ka had twins so the first born is with her and the second cub is in the nursery. After watching her on the monitor, we then went to the nursery to see the second cub in the incubator. The cub was already showing the beginnings of some black fur.

I finished up my day by having dinner with the Access China Tour group and talking about Pandas International in particular and the Giant Panda in general.

Day Three


Most of today was spent traveling from Ya’an to Chengdu to meet Board Member Brad Brieman in Chengdu then going up to Dujiangyan.

Day Four

Saturday was a busy day. I met Dr. Tang early to head to Wolong which required special permission and nerves of steel to make the trip. Wenchaun, the town at the epicenter of the earthquake in 2008, was amazing. I could hardly see any damage as the entire town was all new except for one block left as a memorial where buildings were tilted in all directions at 20-30 degree angles and offered a stark visual reminder of the tragedy that occurred there.

Road to Wolong

Road to Wolong

One of the goals for this trip was to try and get back to see the Wolong Nature Reserve, the progress on building the new Panda Base and to see the condition of the old Panda Base. I knew the road would make for extremely difficult travel and I knew the mountains would look decimated yet I was still not prepared for what we saw and the conditions of the road.

Trying to describe the landscape I thought of “moonscape” or “strip mining” — nothing but rock as far as you could see — an unending lava flow of rock down the mountain; not a tree, not a house; nothing but rock. The “road” was nothing more than where the largest of the boulders had been pushed out of the way so we could travel across the rock fields. “White knuckle” hardly begins to describe the traveling. But I achieved my goal of getting to see what was important.

Entrance to Wolong

Entrance to Wolong

Closer to the old Wolong Panda Center, the destruction diminished and the road was not bad. I started to recognize the landscape I remembered and knew we were close. Looking at the bridge at the old Panda Center was extremely sad as the entrance gate had either been torn down or buried in a rock slide. The whole place had a very eerie feel. Entering the Center was like being in a ghost town. Many rooms were left just as they had been at the moment of the quake. Boulders were in places they should not be like on the steps of the hospital. Dr. Tang said the “hospital” was broken by “flying stone.” There was a sense of overwhelming devastation. The nursery and kindergarten yard were over grown but staff and a few Giant Pandas had returned to begin the next chapter in the history of the Center.

Although the Wolong Panda Center suffered major damage in the earthquake, many buildings and enclosures are still intact. Most of the re-introduction program is currently taking place at Wolong. Currently, there are 4 moms at Wolong: Cao Cao who delivered in 2010, Xi Xi who had twins in 2011 and Jin Zhu and Su Lin who both had single cubs in 2011.

Cao Cao and her cub Tao Tao are in the largest semi wild enclosure at the top of the mountain and both are doing well. They are monitored by 30 cameras in the enclosure. Huang Yan, the researcher on the reintroduction project, reports Cao Cao is using more vocalizations to call Tao Tao than other mothers and cubs in captivity due to the size of their enclosure Tao Tao can get out of Cao Cao’s sight so she needs to call to him. In the captive enclosures the cubs are never out of mom’s sight.

Road to Wolong

Su Lin’s Den

Su Lin, who got off to a rocky start as a mom, is now doing a good job and both mom and cub are doing well. One of the largest enclosures was made into a semi wild area and has become over grown and natural. I could not see Su Lin or her cub as they stay in the artificial den built for them but Dr. Deng reported they also are doing well.

Road to Wolong

XiXi and cubs

Jin Zhu and her cub are also in another enclosure that was converted into a semi wild area. Both are doing well.

The fourth mom, Xi Xi, had twins. Both were with her in one of the old birthing enclosures. Once the cubs are about two months of age mom can handle both at one time. The last mom, Jin Zhu, and her cub were also doing very well.

The researchers will study the 4 litters in the 4 different environments to see if there is any difference in the behavior of the cubs.

New Wolong
Wolong is being rebuilt within the Wolong Nature Reserve but in an area determined to be safer from earthquakes. The elevation is lower and the mountains are not as steep or as close. The road is still so bad that getting to the site and getting supplies in is extremely difficult so progress is very slow. The new Center will consist of a hospital with enclosures, a visitor’s center, administration offices, and numerous large enclosures stretching up the valley. The site is very lovely and I am sure the new Center will be wonderful when completed.

It was a long trip back down to Dujiangyan and a quick change before Brad and I had dinner with Director Zhang Hemin and Dr. Li Desheng.

Day Five

Tracy and Jiao Yang

Today Dr. Tang took us to meet Mr. Wen who’s in charge of building the new Center for Disease Control in Dujiangyan. Excavation on the site has begun and it is projected to be completed in November of 2012. The CDC Center will consist of a hospital, office administration building, a quarantine unit, a research center, staff housing and a Public Education exhibit. There will be 25 enclosures for training and rescue, 10 enclosures for disease prevention, and 5 quarantine enclosures.

The Dujiangyan Rehabilitation Medical Treatment & Research Center will have 5 areas of focus:
Digestion, Respiratory, Parasites, Nutrition/Metabolism and Epidemiology/Epidemics including cancers found in Giant Pandas (lung, pancreas, ovarian, and skin).

In the evening we met the Hug My Cub group for dinner.

Day Six


Went with the Hug My Cub group to a village destroyed in the earthquake but now rebuilt in the Tibetan style of architecture.

Day Seven

Visited the Dujiangyan Irrigation project and then returned to Ya’an to meet Kim’s World Travel group.

Day Eight
Fu Long

Fu Long

Everyone was up early to head to Bifengxia. Most of the group volunteered cleaning cages, scooping poop and carrying bamboo. Dozens of pictures were taken. The group had photos taken with one year olds and then again playing with the two year olds. Everyone loved the photo times.

Tai Shan

Tai Shan (photo courtesy of Chet Chin)

In the afternoon I spent time with Tai Shan and Fu Long. Fu Long has a very distinctive white mark on his foot and likes to climb high in the trees to sleep. Tai Shan prefers his new climbing structure provided by Pandas Unlimited to enrich his enclosure. Mostly Tai just likes to eat bamboo.

After a long day at the Panda Center, Pandas International hosted a staff appreciation dinner to let them know how much we appreciate all they do for the Giant Pandas. With everyone so focused on the Giant Pandas, it is important to let the staff know how much we appreciate them and all their hard work.

Day Nine
Tian Tian

Tian Tian

It was my last day at the Panda Center so I tried to spend as much time as possible with the Giant Pandas. I went to see the Giant Pandas scheduled to go to Edinburgh- Tian Tian which means sweet and Yuang Guang which means sunshine. They have been nicknamed McSweet and McSun in honor of their new Scottish home.

Kai Kai

Kai Kai

I also saw the two Giant Pandas scheduled to go to Singapore- Kai Kai and Jia Jia who were also a very cute couple.


Hua Mei

Hua Mei
Kai Kai

Cub and mom in tree

I spent a lot of time at the new Breeding Center where several one year old cubs were still with their mothers. Allowing cubs to stay with their mothers for up to two years has reduced the number of cubs born, but resulted in a more natural process similar to the experience in the wild. The cubs with their moms all seemed to prefer sleeping high in the trees. Hua Mei and her cub Yang Hu both looked great.

Hua Mei

Kindgergarten cubs

I could spend half the day watching the cubs in the Kindergarten. Seems like the spot in the tree someone else occupies is the best spot, and seeing if you can get to that spot is often the goal of the day. That explains the number of photos with one cub sitting on another.One last trip to see Tai Shan and then it was time to head to the farewell banquet with lots of food and lots of toasting. Following the banquet we went to another building for dancing and awards. Pandas International was recognized for our contributions to the Panda Center. I thought of all the wonderful people who help us by making contributions and purchasing our products and wished they could be here with me. After all, they are Pandas International.

Suzanne Braden
Director of Pandas International

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