I was a bit nervous to see my China tour included a visit to Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center. I dislike the idea of zoos, and I have heard many a horror story about Asian zoos in particular. The day I visited the pandas I was skeptical but cautiously excited to see animals in their natural habitat.
The Panda Research Base is in a misty forest just outside of Chengdu. The center is dedicated to environmental protection, and the site completely awed me with its animal-focused design. Signs caution visitors not to speak above a whisper, not to use flash photography, and not to smoke anywhere on the premises. I was impressed that such care had been taken to ensure the pandas have peace.
I was also relieved to see the panda enclosures were not concrete cells, but rather giant expanses of forest in which pandas could hide, climb trees, and forage for food. Streams run through some of the sections, while dens of rocks and plants have been built to give the animals privacy.
In one section, the staff had placed bamboo treats close to the visitor walkway. With no one speaking above a whisper and no glass separating us, I could hear the crunch and tear of bamboo, the little noises the adolescent pandas made to one another.
The Panda Research Base is truly a sanctuary, not a zoo. Rather than cater toward visitor amusement, it caters to the animals. It's a wonderful place to visit, and I felt good afterward to know the pandas were so well looked after.