Recently, I had the total joy of volunteering with pandas in the People’s Republic of China–a truly unique experience!
I woke up very early to get to the panda center by 8:30 am–I made sure to wear my panda headband and panda cub pin to get in the spirit!
At the panda base, we signed some liability papers (watch those fingers in case a panda takes a nibble!) and were asked to suit up in these blue Ghostbusters like jumpsuits.
When we set out to trek to the panda enclosure to do some morning housekeeping, we noticed a panda hiding in the trees–our first panda encounter of the day.
There was barely any time to take a photo of this panda playing peek-a-boo as we had work to do!
Pick a task
In addition to our spiffy suits, we also were given gloves that reeked of the chemical agent used to clean them.
Sweeping for pandas
We divided into teams to do different tasks–some of us swept, others picked up dried up bamboo leaves and panda poop.
All of us helped break down the bamboo stalks into more digestible strips. We raised them to the sky and then smashed them on the pavement of the road outside the enclosure.
One or two broke their bamboo in one try–the rest of us needed more tries. Everyone agreed it was a great exercise for anger therapy.
Bamboo bam bam
Next, it was time to return to the enclosure and set out the bamboo so the pandas could have breakfast.
We went outside the gate to watch the panda enter and scout out the fresh bamboo.
To our delight, the panda eventually took a seat and began enjoying his breakfast. He lounged back without a care in the world, reclining for most of his morning meal.
Eat that bamboo (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
Pandas have terrible eyesight, so they tend to pick up a long piece of bamboo and smell it first–trying to locate the spot they’d like to feast on first.
Belly table (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
They also like to use their beautiful bellies as a table–loading up the top of their stomach with many bamboo stalks to choose from.
Disabled panda (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
We also got introduced to this panda with a disability–who was found very injured in the wild and rescued.
Three-legged panda (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
Unfortunately, his mutilated leg (likely from an attack) could not be saved, so the panda doctors had to amputate. Today he has three legs and like all pandas keeps to himself (they are solitary creatures).
Cubs wrestling (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
We had the rare chance to watch panda toddlers wrestle for a very long time–they have quite a repertoire of wrestling moves!
Play time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
Pandas are solitary creatures–mothers leave their cubs when they are two years old. So it is only when they are young that they are in such close physical contact with another panda.
Play date (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
It was so fun to watch these babies play, and we could have watched them play all day–but we had work to do! The time had come to feed the pandas!
My new guru (Photo: Emily O’Dell)
On our way to feed the pandas, we passed by this little guy–my new furry guru (total relaxation, what an inspiration).
How cute is this panda? I was elated to have the opportunity to feed this friendly panda–and managed to keep all my fingers intact!
Have a snack
We took a bucket filled with carrots and bamboo into the enclosure to feed our new furry friend who was ready for a snack.
Fortunately, one of the keepers was on hand to guide us as we fed the panda–to be face-to-face with a Giant Panda is a very special thing.
I felt so grateful for the opportunity to commune with a panda in China–was a really unique and moving experience. Afterwards, I just had to buy some stuffed pandas for Anubis and as a reminder of this special day.
The panda center gave me a bag of goodies and a certificate for my panda volunteering. When I went back to our apartment, Anubis was excited to bond with pandas too.