Sunday, July 9, 2017

Eat, Sleep, Play, Repeat Panda Style

Names: Madison MacElrevey and Miranda Smith
Class Year: Juniors
Hometowns: Lewes, DE (Madison) and Westerville, OH (Miranda)
Internship: Behavioral Research at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Location: Chengdu, China

I cannot believe that Miranda and I only have two weeks left of our internship at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding. Our time here in China has flown by so quickly, but we have had so many fun opportunities and experiences along the way.
Our data collection at the Panda Base is going well, and we have spent several afternoons entering data into excel. I am really excited for when we begin analyzing data and comparing with previous years. Even though we do not interact directly with the cubs, I still feel that I know them personally. It was not easy, and honestly a little frustrating, at first learning how to tell them apart, but over time, I have learned to not only tell them apart based on their looks, but also their personalities. Mei Lan is the trouble maker, and tries her best to keep everyone awake. Xing Fan enjoys spending his time high up in a tree. Yuan Man spends much of his time in the back of the enclosure, but do not let that fool you, as he is the first to pounce on a keeper or photographer when they enter. 
Some of the pandas favorite activities include playing, eating, and lounging.  The cubs are still trying to figure out how to eat the bamboo.

While many of our days at the Panda Base appear to be the same, arriving and collecting data, going to lunch, and then collecting more data until it is time to leave. But, we have had the opportunity to be involved with so much more. We get to see the look on visitors’ faces when they see a panda for the first time. We get to hear the laughs of children when they see a panda splashing in the pool. We get to help brainstorm about new research ideas. We get to interact with keepers and staff that pour their hearts and souls into their work, and treat the pandas and each other as family. And, ultimately, we get to help expand upon the knowledge of Giant Pandas in hopes that one day there will once again be a self-sustaining population in the wild.
On our days off, we have spent time exploring Chengdu and the surrounding area. We went to the Sichuan Opera where traditional acts are performed including singing, music, acting, and my personal favorite face changing. When we need a rest, we head to a local tea house, which can be found in many of the parks and temples. Locals spend their afternoons here sipping tea while conversing or playing cards with their friends. One weekend, I was invited to participate in a local 10k race with a team of eight runners. It was a lot of fun to spend some time with the local running community here, as that is one of the main things I have been missing from home. Other adventures have taken us to Buddhist and Taoist temples and ancient towns. 
Cooling off in a river in one of the ancient towns

My 10k racing team

We placed a key at the top of Mt. Qingcheng
 Our most adventurous weekend was spent at Emeishan. The largest of the seven Buddhist mountains in China. Many travelers take several days to traverse the mountain, but we did not realize this until we had already booked a hotel for the same day we started the hike. This mountain was different than many of the other I have hiked in the past, as instead of a switchback path, the trail was made up of stairs going up and down following the curves of the mountain. As you hike up, you pass through many temples and pavilions along with food stands that are part of someone’s home. While we were a little disappointed that we did not see any monkeys, the scenery was breathtaking. After 13.5 hours and ascending over 10,000ft, we finally made it to our hotel which was close to the Golden Summit. In the morning, we woke up and walked to the summit. Once again the views were amazing. After spending some time here, we took the cable car and a bus back to the bottom, and spent the rest of our day relaxing at a hot spring. This weekend was my favorite because we were challenged and definitely pushed outside our comfort zones, and it felt so good that we were able to make it to the top!
I cannot wait for the experiences that the next couple of weeks will bring, and do not even want to think about leaving this place that I have called my home for the summer.  

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