If you were asked to name your favourite wild animal, what would you choose? Would you go for a lion, a tiger, an elephant, a giraffe, or something a little more unique and out there? For many people, giant pandas are up there in terms of popularity, and when you consider the fact that these amazing creatures are so endangered, this only adds to their popularity.
Whereas once upon a time, giant pandas in the wild were as common as blackbirds or squirrels, fast forward to the present day and things are very different. Sadly, giant pandas are endangered, and although they are found in the wild, particularly in parts of China, their numbers are dwindling.
When people think of the panda capital of the world, China is of course the country that instantly springs to mind, but where exactly in China can rightfully claim to be the panda capital of the world? According to some, it’s Chengdu, yet according to others, it’s Ya’an, so which is it?
Where exactly is Chengdu?
Chengdu serves as the capital of the province of Sichuan, China.
It is an expansive sub-provincial city in South-Western China that also happens to be one of the three most expansive cities in the region.
Located in central Sichuan, it offers a relaxed and laidback lifestyle, stunning mountain views, delicious spicy food, heaps of culture, friendly locals, and it is also believed to be the home of giant pandas.
If you visit Chengdu, you’ll come across all kinds of panda merchandise and memorabilia, as people just cannot get enough giant pandas in their life.
Because Chengdu was once home to giant pandas in the wild, Chengdu is home to two panda breeding centers and conservational areas. These are known as:
· Chengdu panda base
· Dujiangyan panda base
Now, the efforts that Chengdu are going to in order to ensure the survival of one of the planet’s most amazing species must be applauded, but we must remember that Chengdu isn’t the only part of China that is famous for its pandas.
Most foreigners and even out of towners who visit Chengdu assume it is the giant panda capital of China, when in fact that may not be the case.
Where exactly is Ya’an?
Ya’an is another city located in the Sichuan province of China and it too is famous for its giant pandas.
Ya’an is not as expansive or as developed as Chengdu, but don’t let that fool you, because it still has plenty to offer, especially in terms of giant pandas.
Ya’an also has conditions perfect for giant pandas, as its monsoon-influenced, subtropical climate is humid and largely mild for much of the year.
The people of Sichuan widely accept the fact that it is in fact Ya’an that is the panda capital of China, though because it is less developed and less populated, it doesn’t generally get the mainstream media coverage that Chengdu receives. In early January of 2021 however, Ya’an saw an unusual cold snap that actually did provide mainstream media coverage regarding its pandas, as giant pandas were filmed playing in the snow and having a grand old time. The clips went semi-viral online, and helped showcase the efforts that the city of Ya’an are going to in order to ensure the survival of giant pandas.
Ya’an is actually home to more giant pandas, and they are generally considered to be better looked after in Ya’an too. In Chengdu, giant pandas may live in enclosures which aren’t too spacious and are perhaps the equivalent of a 1 bed apartment for us. In Ya’an however, the pandas reside in much larger and more spacious enclosures that are the equivalent of a 3 or 4-bedroom house. This is why locals say in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that Chengdu pandas are ‘working class’ and Ya’an pandas are ‘upper class’ pandas.
Where is the true panda capital of China?
Again, if you ask this question to a foreigner, or even a Chinese native who isn’t that interested in giant pandas, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll say Chengdu.
Currently, the only remaining natural panda habitat in the entire world is located on the mountainous eastern edge of western China in the Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces.
Of these however, Sichuan is by far the most highly populated province in terms of giant pandas. So much so in fact, that it is nicknamed the ‘home of the giant pandas’.
Pandas will happily spend as much as 80% of their entire day munching on bamboo, so it should come as no surprise to learn that they reside, in the wild, in bamboo forests. These are typically located on high and mountainous regions, making Sichuan Province ideal.
It is believed that currently, there are roughly 1864 giant pandas living in the wild here, though that number is much higher when you consider the number of pandas living in panda sanctuaries.
Sichuan Province is the natural habitat of giant pandas and in 2006 it was listed as a World Natural Heritage site. With a habitat area of 9245 square kilometres, what’s interesting here is that Ya’an actually accounts for 52% of the core area.
Because of the fact that Ya’an accounts for so much, the truth of the matter is that Ya’an is the capital of the panda world. Did you know for example, that the first giant panda in the world was found directly in Ya’an?
Bifengxia is located in Northern Ya’an is considered a giant panda paradise as the pandas are sheltered here, they’re researched, they’re studied, they’re protected, and they are bred.
The Ya’an Bifengxia Base of the China Research Centre for Conservation of Giant Pandas is home to a series of pandas who will engage in a wealth of different activities and pastimes.
So, where should I go to visit giant pandas?
First and foremost, if you want to see giant pandas in their natural habitats, then China is the country you need to visit.
As China is so expansive, to be precise you should head on over to the Sichuan Province. Whereas Chengu is certainly a lovely part of the country and is certainly doing its bit, experts recommend visiting Ya’an for a truly authentic giant panda experience.
When people hear ‘Chengu’ they generally think of spicy food, gorgeous mountain views, Shu culture, and of course, giant pandas. Whereas Chengu panda base is popular and a great day out, the panda base in Ya’an is even more expansive and is arguably even more popular.
Experts therefore recommend that, out of the two, if you do have a choice, you should try to head on over to Ya’an. Of course, if you really are a fan of giant pandas, why not visit them both and enjoy the best of both worlds? Just be sure to leave a donation.
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