Sandy's Ramblings

Friday, March 02, 2007

Leaping Pandas

Before I start, my apologies to those of you with dodgy internet connections for the number of photos in here. I've made them small so hopefully you'll be ok, but I know South African internet all too well.

I'm going to cram two things into one here, purely for lack of effort. About 10 days ago we (Gabi and I, and our Israeli friend Lihi) were in Lijiang and went on a hike to a place known, rather romantically and ridiculously, as Tiger Leaping Gorge. The name apparently comes from an old legend of local hunters out after said tiger and failing to catch it because it leapt across the gorge - a highly unlikely feat considering that this is one of the deepest gorges in the world, but anyway. Legends are not supposed to make sense.

We initially planned on a 2-night, 3-day hike but found the walking much easier than expected (except for one place known variably as the 24 Bends, 26 Bends and 28 Bends, depending on which map you use) and got to our destination comfortably within 2 days. We also completely miscalculated the amount of money to take with us and so we actually couldn't afford to spend the second night there, so we hot-tailed it back to Lijiang on the second afternoon/evening. Apart from the slightly earlier-than-planned return, it was a beautiful walk complete with waterfalls, goats and magnificent views. My biggest complaint about it is the intense competition by the various guest houses along the way to cover the trail-side rocks with advertising graffiti. Oh, and some random old woman who has claimed a rock at one point of the trail where she demands 8 yuan (about R7.50) for you to stand on the rock and take a photo - is she not aware that you're walking 25-odd kilometres through stunning scenery and are most likely not going to pay top dollar for yet another photo? Each to their own.

Gabi and I at the start of the trail

The backdrop for the walk


The beautiful advertising graffiti competition

Lihi and I

Gabi and Lihi

Ferdinand Magellan?

My attempt at a vertical panorama to show the height, doesn't quite do it

The end of the road

Anyways, days passed and, as mentioned in a previous post here, we got to Chengdu. Chengdu lies in Sichuan province which is home to 85% of the remaining wild panda population (the other 15% lies scattered in 2 neighbouring provinces) and is consequently home also to some major panda research and breeding centres - one of the very few things the Chinese government seems to be doing right in terms of environment.

We spent the morning at one of these research centres where they rear and breed giant and normal pandas, as well as the so-called 'red panda' which I personally think is not a panda but rather an oversized badger or fox, see the photos that follow. I was amused by the blatant contradiction in the park of one of their signs on the way in that badly misquotes a quote that I'm going to badly paraphrase - 'People that pet animals love them, but people that let animals live their natural lives love them even more'. Can't remember who said it, but it is pretty self-explanatory. Towards the back of the park where the red "pandas" are kept the staff keep bugging you to pay 50 kuai (R45 or so) to have a photo taken of you holding a baby panda or a red "panda". Surely by way of their sign about it being better not to pet animals they should not be offering this service?!

Pandas are awesome creatures to watch, and I must admit that I am now extremely impressed by Tekken's rendering of the panda character - the model they have and its movement is super-realistic, including the sitting posture he uses. We were luckily at the park at the morning feeding and watching these chaps eat is grand. They sit on their arse or lie on their backs and strip the leaves and bark from the bamboo before munching through it at great speed. Apparently they can eat up to about 50kg of it a day, only actually ingesting around 10 to 20kg. Good thing bamboo grows so fast.

Pandas are also crazily endangered and according to signs in the park there are either 1000 or 1590 pandas left in the wild. They also claim that world-wide there are only 184 pandas in captivity, of which either 42 or 48 are in this park (depends which sign you believe). That's not many pandas no matter where you come from. The two main reasons for their scarcity these days are that the Chinese are expanding and land grabbing like only they can do, and also the panda is very fussy about which bamboo it will eat. They eat only 23 or 29 or etc (here we go again) of the 50 or 55 or etc (....) species of bamboo found in the region and so they are extremely limited in their ability to move around and change habitat. Add to that that the give birth to 1 or 2 cubs every few years (they kill the second apparently, preferring to look after only 1) and are prized for their skins (and meat in places), and you have a problem. Clearly the panda is an animal evolved not to coexist with humans. Ok, enough biology lessons about them, here are some poorly shot photographs (we got up at 7am).

Red "pandas" up a tree

Red "panda" - how is this a panda????

Pandas either fighting or playing

Me on a bamboo-lined path

Pandas having breakfast

Having a seat while eating


  • Hey Sandy,

    Keep the posting up!
    Your blog is the best mix of information, entertainment and making-me-follow-with-awe-thing that I had for a long time.
    As far as I can assess, brilliant wording - simply a joy to read it.
    Remember, some people will not be gifted in a life's time with what you get to see now.

    Just wanted to let you know.
    Have Gabi know I said hello.

    - Paul

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:43 am  

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