Wolong Panda Centres
Wolong is not only located within a national nature reserve that was founded to protect the breeding habitat of Giant Panda but also contains two panda breeding research centres, one of which, Gengda, is open for public visits.
Because of the increasing rarity of Giant Panda, conservation measures were essential to secure its survival. In Sichuan, several areas in the west of the province were declared as national nature reserves, where the threats of logging, agriculture, mineral extraction, and hunting have all been countered. To further enhance these efforts a captive breeding project has also been undertaken where the aim is to release animals back into the wild. Giant Pandas are extremely difficult to breed in captivity but over the years developing techniques, that include artificial insemination have meant that numbers of pandas held in captivity, now exceeding five hundred, are sufficient to allow the development of workable reintroduction programs. Just like the breeding, reintroduction of animals habituated to captivity, has also proved to be a difficult task, but work at the two Wolong centres is at the forefront of this project.
Hetaoping Giant Panda Centre Wolong
The first ever Panda Research Centre was started, inside the Wolong National Nature Reserve, in 1981, at a site called Hetaoping. This became the largest centre with 63 pandas, where pioneering research into Giant Panda breeding and cub rearing led to a more successful captive breeding program. Unfortunately, this work came to an end in 2008 when the Sichuan Earthquake destroyed much of the site, killing five workers and one adult Panda, and leading to escape of six others. Subsequently only 5 of these were found, with the lost panda presumed dead. Formerly the site was open to visitors but since the earthquake is has been closed. However, work has again resumed at Hetaoping and now its main focus is the reintroduction of captive bred Giant Pandas back into the wild. This work has had mixed success – the first animal released in the Wolong reserve, being tracked by a radio collar, did well for several months only to be eventually killed by falling off a cliff after a supposed territorial encounter with an adult panda. This has led to a new scheme where animals will now be released into suitable habitat in areas that have few or no Giant Pandas and presently eleven releases have been reported, with one released female known to have bred. The Hetaoping Centre can be seen from the road passing through Wolong Valley, and animals can often be seen, from the roadside, if they have climbed one of the tall trees that are found in the Panda enclosures.
Prepairing animals for release involves wearing panda costumes, an attempt to insure animals are not heavily imprinted onto a human presence - a press photograph from Hetaoping
Gengda Giant Panda Centre Wolong
This centre was constructed after the 2008 earthquake in response to the damage sustained by the original Hetaoping site. Situated in a more open, “earthquake safe” landscape It is now the main public panda attraction in Wolong Valley. Here, in modern, attractively landscaped grounds, visitors can easily view animals of various ages inside large enclosures. Before Covid it was possible to become a volunteer panda keeper for a day. This is still possible There are also exhibition areas that contain educational displays explaining Giant Panda study of both captive and wild animals., although present schemes do not allow as close a contact with the animals and mainly focus on feed preparation. The centre specialises in both breeding and re-introduction work and is open throughout the week.
The centre is located close to hotel and restaurants in both Genda and Wolong Villages
The map shows how the road that links the Wolong area to the outside world winds its way up through the steep gorges of the river valley. The old centre at Hetaoping is partculary vulnerable to landslide, as was shown during the 2008 earthquake, which is one of the reasons that the safer location at Gengda is now the main centre. The two Centres are fifteen minutes' drive apart, with Genda Centre being around 30 minutes drive from Wolong Village.