Natalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, August 28, 2013
Tickets to the panda enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo are selling out thanks to the possibility of a cub being born in Britain.
The baby panda, which would be Britain’s first, could be born within the next two weeks, although zookeepers are still not 100 per cent sure that Tian Tian, the would-be mother in question, is actually pregnant.
They are monitoring the panda’s condition closely and an experienced keeper from China has arrived to help out, just in case.
Should all the hullabaloo be for nothing, we’ve rounded up some of the best places to see pandas in China, for those prepared to travel a whole lot further.
Chengdu, known as the panda capital of the world, is the obvious destination for panda lovers. It is where you will find Panda Base (www.panda.org.cn), an important conservation and breeding centre and a green oasis in the city, home to more than 90 of the black-and-white bears. There are bamboo thickets, pagodas, pools with koi carp and red pandas too.
You can see pandas there for most of the year, but visiting in late summer/early autumn (August or September) brings the bonus of newborn babies. There are always some in the nursery then because pandas often have twins. The cubs can be seen at close quarters being bottle-fed and they are comfortable with visitors.
The city of Chengdu loves it pandas and there are homages to them everywhere you go, from taxis with pandas on their bonnets, to the 20ft tall silver statue in the city centre.
A new, direct route to Chengdu with British Airways begins next month.
Sichuan’s giant panda sanctuaries are home to make up more than 30 per cent of the world’s population. Seven nature reserves and nine parks flank the Qionglai and Jiajin mountains. The sanctuaries are also home to red pandas, snow and cloud leopards.
The National Bifengxia Panda Reserve, 100 miles southwest of Chengdu, is one of the best. It took in pandas from the Wolong Panda Reserve which was badly damaged during an earthquake in 2008.
Audley Travel ( www.audleytravel.com ) offers tailor-made tours to the Bifengxia panda sanctuary.
Sichuan is also home to the world’s first panda-themed hotel, which opened at the foot of the Emei mountain in May this year. Expect an abundance of staff in bear costumes.
Trekking to see pandas in the wild is difficult. A clutch of tour companies claim to offer the experience, but there are no guarantees of sightings. Panda China Tour is one ( www.pandachinatour.com ).