Exclusive: Pandas lead frugal life in Chengdu base

By Huang Zhiling (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2008-06-13 18:50

CHENGDU - Zhuang Yong, the freestyle swimming gold medallist of the Barcelona Olympics, spent 100,000 yuan (US$14,492) adopting two giant pandas Friday in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Banda Breeding, becoming the first panda adopter after the May 12 earthquake.

The two pandas Zhuang adopted, Jin Jin, male, and Xiang Xiang, female, were born in August 2006.

Zhuang Yong is all smiles with 10-month-old panda Ke Ning in her arms. "It is so lovely and it is like the first time I embraced my son five years ago," she said. [chinadaily.com.cn/by Huang Zhiling]

Weighing 48 kilograms, Jin Jin excels at climbing and racing. His father Cobi, was named by Juan Antonio Samaranch, then-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1992, after it was born on the opening day of the Barcelona Olympics. Cobi was also the name of the mascot of the Barcelona Olympics.

Weighing 52 kilograms, Xiang Xiang, whose father is also Cobi, and mother Ya Ya, was born when the Asian Games were held in Beijing in 1990.

The reason why Zhuang chose Jin Jin and Xiang Xiang was their families' connection to sports, said Pu Anning, chief of the base's general office.

Zhuang Yong (right) receives the certificate showing her adoption of the two pandas from Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. [chinadaily.com.cn]

After the adopting ceremony, Zhuang took pictures with Ke Ning, a 10-month-old female panda. Embracing the cuddly panda, Zhuang was all smiles and kept saying: "How lovely. It reminds me of the first time I embraced my son who is five now."

She adopted the pandas after learning bamboo forests in Sichuan were seriously damaged in the quake, resulting in the rise of bamboo prices, and the base had much fewer visitors, suffering from economic losses, Zhuang said.

According to Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, because of the earthquake, it is the most difficult time in the history of the base which was set up in 1987. "It is even more difficult than the time after the outbreak of SARS," he told chinadaily.com.cn.

During the SARS outbreak, a German tourist group visited the base. But no foreign tourist group has visited it since the earthquake. Only a small number of overseas backpackers visited the base.

"Before the quake, the base received between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors a day. But now it has only 30 to 50 visitors a day. The base is expected to suffer from a loss of 15 million yuan (US$2.2 million) in entrance ticket income this year," he said.

Zhuang Yong (right) gave Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the bank cheque for her adoption of the two pandas. [chinadaily.com.cn/by Huang Zhiling] 

To keep the base going, keepers now feed each panda 50 kilograms of bamboo rather than 70 to 89 kilograms a day before the earthquake. "Pandas tend to waste a lot of bamboo because they only eat the freshest and most tasty part of it. Because of the quake, we have to teach them to lead a frugal life," Zhang said.

The base' bamboo used to come from Dujiangyan, Wenchuan, Beichuan and Jiangyou, all of which were hit hard in the earthquake. Landslides in the earthquake ruined many bamboo forests and locals who are busy with disaster relief do not want to collect bamboo for the base. "As a result, the price of a kilogram of bamboo has risen to 2.5 yuan (36 US cents) from 1.8 yuan (26 US cents)," Zhang said.

His base used to turn on the air-conditioner for pandas when the outdoor temperature was 25 degrees Centigrade. But it does so when it is 26 degrees Centigrade. Keepers used to bathe pandas in running water.

"Now they turn off the water when the bathtub is filled with water. The base, whose operation relies on the entrance admission tickets, has to let pandas live a more frugal life, due to the drop in the number of visitors," Zhang said with a sense of humor.

Because of economic plights, the base has stopped its conservation education projects in primary, high schools and colleges and nature reserves in the province. Soon after the earthquake, many individuals and organizations sent the base emails or letters asking whether it was damaged or closed or whether its pandas would be relocated to other cities.

"Apparently, they have mistaken the base for the Wolong Nature Reserve which was hard hit in the quake," said Zhang whose base has never been closed since the earthquake.

He disclosed that the base would promote itself in Japan and the United States, telling people that both the base and Chengdu are safe.

The base has cooperated with a film studio in Japan to make a film of the base. Some 300,000 people are expected to attend the debut of the film on August 31. "The base will distribute booklets about the base and Chengdu to people attending the debut," he said.

Japan has the third largest number of visitors to the base after the United States and Europe.

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