Wolong Pandas: Life Returns to Normal

Mountains of Bi Feng XiaOne panda sits peacefully munching her bamboo, gracefully stripping leaves from the stem, rolling it into a wad, and holding it in her paw to eat. Another rolls around, head over heels, playing with his new enrichment item. A new panda mother comforts her squawking cub, secure in her new den. Such is the life of a panda.

Scenes like this have played out for years in Wolong until, a year ago, everything suddenly came crashing down, quite literally. The earthquake that struck Sichuan last year, causing so much devastation and loss of life, also struck at the heart of China’s giant panda breeding program at Wolong. Most of the breeding center there now sits empty, its panda and human inhabitants now relocated to Bi Feng Xia, some several hours away. Today, the same scenes witnessed a year ago in Wolong now play out in Bi Feng Xia.

Entrance to Bi Feng Xia panda facility

Thankfully, the whole world rallied to help the Chinese people—and their pandas. And together, with your help, we at the San Diego Zoo have helped. In the past year, we raised $100,000 to help out those devastated by the earthquake, both the pandas and the people that care for them. We worked with the other zoos in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and its Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, which raised even more relief funds for Wolong. Without this kind of support, the pandas’ life would not have been able to return to normal so quickly and efficiently. The pandas all still do not enjoy so nice an enclosure as they once had at Wolong, but they are well on the path to normalcy. They have temporary enclosures. Some new permanent enclosures have been built or are being built. They have a good supply of food and medicine and the basic care they need. A new facility just outside the Wolong Nature Reserve will soon be built.

The Chinese people and their pandas are resilient. But this kind of assistant was desperately needed. Our friends in Wolong, now Bi Feng Xia, are truly grateful. And we are grateful for all of the contributions you made. So, thanks!

Ron Swaisgood is director of Applied Animal Ecology at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.