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June 16, 2010

Pandas, Pandas and More Pandas Part 1

Tom McLaughlin

Chengdu, China – My wife Suriani and I smiled excitedly as we alighted from the taxi at the Panda Research center just a few kilometers from the edge of the town limits of Chengdu. Pandas! Those cute cuddly bears were the reason for our trip and we were finally going to see them.


We rushed up to the gate and quickly paid our $11.70 for the two of us to wander around the grounds. We arrived around 9 A.M. hoping to see the pandas still active on their morning feeding and rambling schedule before they napped.


Spring had blossomed in full glory. The air was misty and cool while my beautiful new bride, with the lady-in waiting-glow, pointed to flowers, asking excitedly – What’s that? What’s that? Her first spring, she marveled at pansies, petunias and zinnias, not seen in the tropics.


We both hurriedly walked, trying to catch the first glimpse of a panda in action before they slept. Her eyes are much better than mine in pointing out details and she espied the first one. “There,” she exclaimed. Off in the distance, a panda ambled about eating some bamboo, but too far for a photo.


Gadget and electronically wise, I am all thumbs. I cannot program the VCR, can barely manage the cable box and any gadget attached to the computer, especially the new printer complete with scanner and something else takes months for me to master. My camera with all the add ons takes much thought before I can snap a picture. Meanwhile, Suriani has mastered a small camera with zooms, portraits and close ups and takes much better pictures than I do.


We walked off to the next display and there about six pandas, close enough for a portrait, posed in all their glory. One especially went through antics pausing long enough for even me to fumble around and take a half decent photo while Suriani had snapped ten from all angles.


The pandas were housed in cement bunkers with food and water. They could wander out into long and wide pens to munch bamboo, exercise and watch the tourists gawk at them, me included. I wonder what they thought of the tour groups who arrived and followed a leader holding a green or red flag.


Most of the visitors stopped, snapped pictures mostly of each other, jabbered excitedly in their native tongue and walked on while Suriani and I watched and took in the scene of bamboo, pandas, trees and the subtle beauty of western China. Happy when they left, we had a few minutes of silence and commune.


Walking onward, we met a group of red pandas. Small, wiry ratty tails with alert eyes. They reminded me of those two animals in the Lion King who sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” I am sure any six year old can give me their names.


An ornery bunch, they squabbled among themselves sometimes breaking into full fledged fisticuffs, rolling and snarling in a ball of flying fur before one would break loose and run. The victor would give a departing snap at the retreating tail, ending with a mouthful of fur. Many of the red pandas had only a rats’ tail instead of the full raccoon, indicating these disputes happened often.


The preservation of the critically endangered panda population reflects who we are and how we relate to the world and to each other. The Chinese government with international support and help has constructed a large compound to preserve and assist on the reproduction of this species for all to enjoy.


…life is good…


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