My mother and I just came back from volunteering in China at the Giant Panda Center. There were not enough hours in the day to feel like we got enough time with the amazing creatures. We went to bed thinking how we just can’t wait until we wake up the next day.
We took all of our savings and traveled half way around the world to a country where no one spoke English and was freezing cold, all to get a chance to experience the pandas… and it was all worth it! Not to mention the amazing people we met along the way.
The program overall focuses on breeding mature pandas with the aim of re-releasing them into the wild.
Waking up every morning on the panda project at 6 or 7 is also an experience, especially if you are volunteering in the winter months, but just the thought of seeing the Pandas is reason enough to jump straight out of bed every morning! Before you leave your room you need to get dressed in winter clothes and hope that they are enough to keep you warm, go have a Chinese breakfast, after which you are off to clean cages and feed the pandas.
Each volunteer gets a panda that they take care of by cleaning the enclosure and feeding them. The pandas were fed panda cake, apples, carrots, and lot of bamboo which you learn how smash. You could really see the panda’s personalities and sometimes they would get fussy about the kinds of bamboo they received. These creatures are vegetarians and friendly so we could touch them as long as we were cautious.
For lunch we returned back to the hostel for a couple of hours of free time that was spent walking around the panda base to see all the pandas, meeting with the other volunteers, or warming up for a little while in your room before returning to work. In the afternoon we went back to work, cleaning the enclosures and feeding the pandas; after our afternoon work was done we had the evenings free.
Accommodations were good at the panda base. The staff did everything they could to make the volunteers feel at home, and we greatly appreciated it. The electro-blankets were great (but they were more like electro-mattresses, which was even better).
There was a problem with hot water but that was part of the experience and those volunteering in the summer months would most likely not have a problem with it. We appreciated not only working with but also getting to know a lot about the pandas through documentaries and the keepers’ knowledge, discovering the local culture, and overall enjoying a great learning experience. We didn’t expect a 5 star hotel and the conditions were difficult at times, but they were an experience in itself. We are now tougher and can volunteer anywhere.
The most exciting part of our journey was establishing a relationship with the Giant Pandas. We were involved in protecting these lovely creatures.