China's Icon Proves Big Draw for Tourists

Authors: By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu ( China Daily )


As ambassadors for China and an icon of Sichuan's capital, pandas have charmed countless domestic and foreign visitors.
Foreign tourists planning their trips to Sichuan province are generally faced with a straight choice of where to go first: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding or Wolong National Nature Reserve.

Pandas from Sichuan are the symbol of China, and pandas are unique to the country. An increasing number of people from both China and overseas are visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, said James Ayala, an American working in the base.

The 41-year-old researcher of animal behavior has worked at the base for more than four years. He was drawn there by his love for pandas.

China's fourth panda census, the results of which were released on Feb 28 last year by the State Forestry Administration, found evidence of 1,864 wild pandas, and there were 375 captive pandas worldwide at the end of 2013. That compares with 1,596 wild pandas and 164 captive pandas worldwide in the third census carried out from 2000 to 2002.

Most of the wild and captive pandas are in Sichuan.

The rise in the number of wild and captive pandas is chiefly due to the establishment of nature reserves and breakthroughs in breeding technologies, according to Zhang Hemin, chief of the administrative bureau of the Wolong National Nature Reserve.

Researchers used to face three main problems when trying to breed pandas in captivity: estrus, which is the period of sexual receptivity and fertility of the female panda, mating and nursing.

"It used to be difficult for captive pandas to become ruttish and mate, and for their cubs to survive. From 1992 to 2006, our researchers solved all the three difficulties," said Zhang who has studied pandas since 1983.

With the three primary obstacles overcome, Wolong now has the largest captive panda population in the world and no longer captures wild pandas for research purposes.

Instead, it does the reverse, sending captive pandas into the wild with the aim of increasing the wild panda population.

Tao Tao, a two-year-old male panda, was released into the wild in the Liziping Nature Reserve in Sichuan in 2012. He was found one year later in a tree more than 3,000 meters above the sea level.

A veterinarian tranquilized the frightened bear with a rifle dart and a subsequent blood test showed the panda was in good health, said Yang Zhisong, an associate professor of zoology at China West Normal University in Nanchong, Sichuan, who was on the scene.

Tao Tao weighed 42 kilograms when he was released in 2012. When he was found a year later, he had gained at least 10 kilograms, Yang said.

Many countries have asked China to loan pandas to them and it has, since 1996, loaned bears to the United States, Belgium and Thailand, among other countries.

As ambassadors for China, the bears have charmed countless domestic and foreign visitors.
Recommeded: Other tourism resources in Sichuan
The giant Buddha was carved out of a cliff face between 713-803 during the Tang Dynasty on the Lingyun Mountain in Leshan City in southern Sichuan, at the place where the Dadu, Minjiang and Qingyi rivers meet.
The statue of Samantabhadra is situated at the top of Emei Mountain, which is known as the place where Samantabhadra sought to guide people towards enlightenment.
The Baopingkou (Bottle-Neck) Channel is part of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, China's oldest such water system.
Jiuzhaigou Valley is a UNESCO natural heritage site, which is renowned for its stunning scenery.

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