The giant panda is one of the world's most popular animals and sadly is one of the most endangered. A 2006 study estimated there were just between 2500-3000 in the wild in China. Others live in captivity in Chinese research centres and a few in zoos around the world.
Giant pandas once roamed southern China but they are now confined to pockets across six remote mountain forests. The habitats have been disconnected from one another because of logging, agriculture and huge population increases.
The government has established the habitat areas as protected nature reserves and have developed panda corridors which connect the separated areas. These measure will hopefully lead to the animals mingling, resulting in increased population.
Because they resemble a living teddy bear and have such adorable faces, the giant panda is a favourite around the world. They enjoy reclining peacefully while eating bamboo, but the docility vanishes if their young are threatened or if they just feel irritated.
It's comforting to know that efforts are being made to encourage the salvation of the giant panda. The Shaanxi Rescue and Breeding Centre of Rare Wildlife is about 65 kilometres south-west of Xi'an at the foothills of the Qinling Mountains. The area is very remote and rural and doesn't make it into most guide books.
The village of Louguantai is very small with a few restaurants and hotels, a Taoist temple and local villagers' homes. It is backed by mountains and overlooks a river. Surrounding forests are quite beautiful and are full of Chinese pine, juniper trees and bamboo.
The centre is home to 13 giant pandas three were born in captivity golden monkeys, crested ibis, the takin (a large sheep-like creature living only in China and Bhutan), the sika (similar to a deer) and red panda (which are small and have tails). The animals have been rescued from the wild or from poachers, orphaned or born in captivity.
The main purpose of the centre is to encourage breeding and to re-introduce captive panda into the wild. In 2006 a young panda named Xiang Xiang was the first born in captivity to be released into the wild. It took three years of survival training and that was one huge step.
The centre has a staff of around 50 and five of them take care of pandas and supervise volunteers.
The pandas are in enclosures which have an indoor concrete section and outdoor grassy area. They are free to move about, and while it appears they don't have a lot of room, their conditions are superior to a typical Asian zoo.
Volunteers are placed at the Shaanxi Centre for between two and four weeks. The fee for volunteering includes all activities, food and accommodation, as well as contributing to the survival of the project. Not only do volunteers assist staff with looking after the giant pandas and other animals, they help the staff learn English which is important for attracting tourists and generating revenue.
A volunteer's day starts at around 8am and they work until 4pm. The daily activities do vary, and could involve anything from general cleaning to an urgent panda rescue in the mountains, which would be both exciting and fulfilling. General tasks include cleaning enclosures, collecting bamboo, feeding the pandas and helping with veterinary treatments. Those clever enough can update the website and design tourist literature. In their free time, volunteers can trek in the foothills of the Qinling Mountains or grab a lift into Xi'an and explore the city.
There are a few requirements to be accepted as a volunteer. You must be at least 21 years of age and submit a CV. The centre looks for mature and responsible people with good communication skills. Volunteers need to be prepared to get stuck in and help with a wide range of tasks, and as the project is in a remote location with limited facilities.
Two hours from Xi'an in Shaanxi province.
Panda Conservation Volunteering costs $2945 for a two-week program. Accommodation, meals, TEFL certification, airport pickup, orientation, and constant support on a one-to-one basis. Extra weeks cost $740 per week. Programs start every two to three weeks, with the exception of December and January.
Wendy Wu Tours has a four-night package in Beijing from $2500 per person twin share. It includes accommodation at the Grand View Garden Hotel, breakfast each day and return airport transfers. Valid between July 25 and August 31, 2008. Airfares are not included and are subject to availability.
Air China has flights to Beijing.
- Melbourne $1326
- Sydney $1343
- Adelaide $1578
- Brisbane $1583
Valid for travel until March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.
Prices correct at May 8, 2008
For further information
Panda Conservation details can be found at STA Travel
Ph: 134 782
Wendy Wu Tours
Level 9, 275
Ph: 1300 727 998
Fax: (02) 9993 0444
21/123 Pitt Street
Ph: (02) 9232 7277
Fax: (02) 9232 7645
It is recommended travellers to China see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au.
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