Stress Busters

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A special day to visit Gong Zhu

Filed in Stress Busters

Before I left for my recent 17-day trip across seven cities in China, a friend asked if I would be in Ya’an on 12 May this year. In previous years, I’d been in Ya’an on that day to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 earthquake. But not this year. This year on 12 May, I would be with my second adopted panda, Gong Zhu, in her new home in Ganzhou Zoo. But looking back on the trip, and especially the two days I was with her, I realised I had commemorated this year’s 8th anniversary of the 2008 earthquake, but in a different way than previous years’.

If not for the 2008 earthquake, I would not have gone to Bifengxia Panda Base where I was assigned to the keeper looking after Gong Zhu. I would not have helped look after her for a week, formed a bond with her, and later, after returning home, decided to adopt her after rearranging my financial commitments.

God works in mysterious ways. I commemorated the 2008 earthquake’s 8th anniversary by spending it with the panda I’d adopted as a result of the earthquake. I’ve visited her almost every year (sometimes twice a year) since 2008, except for the year she was sent to Hetaoping.

Gong Zhu and another panda, Han Yuan, were moved to Ganzhou Zoo in early February this year, in time to go on public exhibit during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holidays. I think this is the first time Gong Zhu’s lived away from Sichuan Province while Han Yuan has lived in three other places – Shanghai Zoo, Shanghai Wild Animal Park and Ningbo Zoo – before coming to Ganzhou Zoo, and she’s only eight this year.

Gong Zhu and Han Yuan are also the first pair of pandas to live here. Ganzhou Zoo has never had pandas before. The panda house is new, with both indoor rooms and outdoor yards, one of both for each of them. Perhaps due to lack of space, the panda house is built on a slope with no path for visitors to walk around to see the outdoor yards. Instead, the panda house is a two-storey structure, with the top storey providing a viewing area from which to view their yards. The result is an aerial view. Not exactly the best view of Gong Zhu and Han Yuan when they are outdoors.

While the layout of the panda house may not be the best for visitors, what’s important for me is that the pandas are well cared for. I think they are, although it could be better.

Mr Ren, a keeper from Dujiangyan, had accompanied Gong Zhu and Han Yuan to Ganzhou Zoo, and scheduled to be there for six months. He is a good friend and I was looking forward to see him as well as Gong Zhu. Unfortunately, two days before the start of my trip, he was called home on some family business. I was disappointed not to see him and to discuss with him my impressions of the panda house. Instead, I got to meet Mr Fu, the local keeper who would take over the pandas’ care after Mr Ren completes his six months in Ganzhou Zoo.

Of the two pandas, Gong Zhu has adapted better than Han Yuan. She has a very good appetite. Unlike the usual panda habit of eating and sleeping, she ate more than she slept during my two days’ visit. When she was not eating or sleeping, she was walking around a fair bit.

Han Yuan has not adapted as well. She hardly eats the bamboo provided for her but has no problem with the supplement food – the carrots, apples and bamboo shoots. Unfortunately, because bamboo is the panda’s main diet, if she goes too long without it, her health will be affected. Ganzhou Zoo’s panda team needs to find a source of bamboo that will meet Han Yuan’s taste.

Han Yuan was also a big surprise for me. I’d assumed Han Yuan was male, and even when Mr Fu mentioned both of them were in estrus the previous month, it still did not click for me. It was only after I returned home that I found out Han Yuan is female. But that’s not the surprise. The surprise – a happy one – is that she is our Fu Wa’s younger half-sister, born of the same mother. I was so happy to find another family connection to Ganzhou Zoo.

For sure, I will visit Gong Zhu and Han Yuan in Ganzhou Zoo again, the same way I visited Feng Yi when she was living in Guilin. The next time I visit, I hope to see Han Yuan enjoying her bamboo.

Gong ZhuGZ-gz-160512-1

Han YuanHY-gz-160512-1

Outside view of the Ganzhou Zoo panda house, with a partial view of Gong Zhu’s outdoor yard
and the viewing area on the first floor
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Aerial view of the two yards from the first floor viewing areaganzhou_panda-outdoor-may2016-1

Overdue blog entry, no thanks to Facebook

Filed in Stress Busters, TravelsTags: ,

A month ago today, I was in Taiyuan Zoo visiting Feng Yi’s firstborn, Gong Gong. I was on a 17-day panda trip to visit 22 pandas in seven cities. Taiyuan was the fourth city. If I’d been a bit more organised, this post would’ve been written at the time I was there.

If I’d been more organised, I would’ve written daily posts about the various cities and pandas during the trip. The first time I thought about writing a blog entry, I realised I’d forgotten my password for my Chet’s Chatter blog. Not surprising as my last blog entry was more than a year ago in April 2015. And I blame Facebook for it.

The reason I thought about posting on my blog was because Facebook is blocked in China. Facebook has taken over the need for a blog. It’s only when I’m in China and have no access to Facebook that I remember Chet’s Chatter. It’s not fair to my blog. But I’m digressing …

So a month ago today, I was in Taiyuan Zoo. It was my second day there. The entire 17-day trip had actually been planned so that I would be in Taiyuan on the 17th and 18th of May. Why? Gong Gong turned 33 months old on 18 May. That’s why.

I’ve been visiting Bifengxia Panda Base every May since 2009. I’ve tried to be there every 12th of May, the anniversary of the 2008 earthquake. When I was there in 2014, I also visited Gong Gong and was with him when he turned 9 months old on 18 May 2014. Although I returned to Bifengxia in August that year to celebrate his 1st birthday, I knew I would not be able to be there every year for his birthday which is only five days before his mother’s. So I made a promise to myself to be with him every year on 18 May instead of 18 August; at least, I would be with him on the right date, even though not the right month.

So I was with him on his 9th and 21st “monthdays”, both times in Bifengxia. And I was with him on his 33rd “monthday” this year. This time it was not in Bifengxia; he and his buddy Shun Shun had been moved to Taiyuan Zoo in October last year. There was no hesitation in choosing to be with him instead of being in Ya’an on the earthquake anniversary.

As it turned out, I did not miss the earthquake anniversary – the eighth this year – but spent it in a most meaningful way; I was with my second adopted panda, Gong Zhu. At the time, I didn’t realise how significant it was that I should be with her on that day. If I’d blogged about it a month ago, that significance would’ve been missing from the write-up. It was only after I returned home, when I thought back to my visit with Gong Zhu, that it became clear to me why I was with her on 12 May 2016. So maybe it was just as well that I forgot the password to my blog and didn’t get round to writing up about my trip until now. Again I digress …

So I got to be with Gong Gong on his 33rd “monthday”. That’s 2 years 9 months. The last time I saw him before this trip was in early November, the earliest I could see him after learning that he’d been moved there with Shun Shun.

Enough rambling. Here is Gong Gong’s 33rd “monthday” photo and a couple of videos from my visit a month ago. Hopefully, I will write about the actual visit to Taiyuan, plus my visit to the other six panda places, in a more organised manner soon.

Feng Yi’s firstborn, Gong Gong, at 33 months old on 18 May 2016GG-160518-1

Photo of the day

Filed in Stress Busters

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Bai Yun’s #1 son, and my favourite overseas-born boy panda. His name? Mei Sheng, which can mean “Born in the USA” or “Beautiful Life”. From his cheeky grin, looks like he’s living the beautiful life in Bifengxia Panda Base, China.

Yes, I’ve arrived. As usual, it was a night in Chengdu, followed by a relatively early morning bus ride to Ya’an, check-in at hotel, lunch, and then it was up to Bifengxia.

It was a busy afternoon visiting pandas in the various “neighbourhoods”. The only place I didn’t visit today was Bai Xiong Ping or White Bear Plain. I usually start each visit from there as it’s the closest to the entrance. But this time, I was eager to visit Feng Yi and her baby at the new breeding centre turned maternity ward.

The population there at the moment is about half mothers and half possibly expectant mothers. With one exception – Mei Sheng. He’s the only male there. Maybe that’s the reason for that cheeky grin.

And yes, I got to see Feng Yi cuddling her baby in her right arm. And I saw how when the cub vocalised, Feng Yi immediately bent down to nuzzle her baby. More on this in another post, possibly over at myPandas site.

New bedsheets await 2013 cubbies

Filed in News, Stress Busters

Bifengxia Panda Base took delivery of three new incubators from Pandas International on 13 May 2013 (what a lovely date).

Each incubator comes with a bedsheet.

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When I saw the bedsheet, I was reminded of the familiar one I’ve photographed over the years.

September 2007 (Wolong Panda Centre)
incubator-sept2007

August 2008 (Bifengxia Panda Base)
incubator-aug2008

September 2010 (Bifengxia Panda Base)
incubator-sept2010

September 2012 (Bifengxia Panda Base)
incubator-sept2012

There is no incubator photo for 2009 as I’d visited in May that year when the nursery was closed (no cubbies until after July), and for some reason, no incubator photo/s for 2011 even though I’d visited in August and September that year.

I look forward to seeing the 2013 cubbies resting on the new blue bedsheets.

Five years ago today

Filed in Personal, Stress Busters

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake. Today is one of the reasons I am here in Ya’an – to be with the giant pandas and their keepers who lost their home in Woloing Panda Centre that was extensively damaged by the 5.12 earthquake.

Thanks to the existence of Bifengxia Panda Base, Wolong was able to keep most of its pandas together. Bifengxia was originally set up in 2003 “to avoid panda fatalities and the spread of infectious diseases in the Wolong captive population … Several pandas were taken to the base in order to secure the safety of the entire population as a whole.” (Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda official guide)

This means Wolong’s captive population is located in two places at any time – an excellent strategy, as it turned out, especially in light what happened during the 5.12 earthquake in 2008.

There are many things i am grateful for. Giant pandas, Wolong and especially Bifengxia Panda Base are some of them.