The Bifengxia Panda Breeding centre – where the Wolong panda’s are post earthquake.

I enthusiastically swept up large panda droppings, cleared out old bamboo from my assigned enclosures, mopped floors and fed the panda’s 4 times a day.. which took a total of 2 hours actual volunteering time at the Bifengxia Panda Breeding Centre. There were no other educational sessions and some of the volunteers were assigned to panda keepers who did not speak english so were unable to have any answers to their questions. As this was a paid volunteering program, (and it aint cheap to sweep panda poo!) I was pretty disappointed on my first day. In the in-between time, volunteers were just hanging around the base waiting for another 60 minutes to pass so they could spend 10-20 minutes, depending on how many volunteers were assigned to your enclosure, preparing panda cake, carrots and apples to feed the pandas, which happened 4 times a day.

T – ‘So why did you chose to come to China?’

Amy, a 20-year-old british volunteer assigned to my enclosure – ‘It’s just somewhere to go.’

Amy seemed to disagree with most things about China, the cuisine, the language, the weather and (dare I say) the culture.

T – ‘… but you love animals?’ Thinking we had to have something in common having both volunteered at the Panda base.

Amy, brightens – Yes! (Bingo!)

It was by great fortune that I met Anton, a biologist and researcher from the Vienna Zoo, who had been working at the Bifengxia panda base for the last 2 weeks researching the different types of vocals of the panda babies.

Anton – ‘Last night a female panda gave birth with 6 guys nearby talking loudly and smoking while she was having contractions, like the event wasn’t stressful enough for her’

Anton had access to areas of the base that only staff could enter, like the actual breeding centre which accommodated panda mothers caring for pink newborns, newly fluffy panda babies, and expecting panda mothers. He encouraged me to be his ‘associate’ and accompany him into this exclusive area where I was able to observe Anton running back and forth between maternal enclosures with all his sound gear trying to catch every baby panda’s vocal, all the time keeping me involved and informed with the different types of calls, answering all my questions, and providing a brief history of mother and baby.

From then on, I knew that every volunteer needed to have their own personal Anton to make their educational experience at the Bifengxia Panda Base well worth it.