Many Hongkongers have met Ocean Park’s two giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le, but how much do we actually know about this fluffy, innocent-looking species?
During their CAS (creativity, action, service) Week, 35 Sha Tin College students travelled to the pair’s home province of Sichuan, and took on the role of panda caretakers at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda Dujiangyan Base in Chengdu.
From September 30 to October 4, the student volunteers from Years Eight to 10 cared for around a dozen baby and adult pandas rescued from the wild. They prepared food for them, fed them, and cleaned their enclosures.
As well as their panda duties, the students also visited the ancient irrigation system in Dujiangyan and explored tourist attractions in and around Chengdu, including the Xue Tao Memorial Hall and Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial Museum. The week was eye-opening on many levels.
“Before our trip, we thought pandas were cute and friendly because they look like cuddly teddy bears,” participant Anthony Law Tsz-yeung, 13, told Young Post. Katie Niermeier, also 13, agreed, adding that despite the pandas’ adorable looks, they can become aggressive when they detect danger or predators.
“Also, I was surprised to learn that pandas could suddenly shoot up a tree [if they needed to],” said the wide-eyed Year Nine student.
As pandas may become defensive, especially towards people they are not familiar with, the students had to feed them from outside of their room-like enclosure, separated by iron bars.
“We were told not to touch them or get too close to them,” Katie said.
“We could only hold out the bamboo in front of their faces.”
Justin Kwong Yeung-ting, 13, added that they had to break the bamboo sticks into smaller pieces to make it easier for the pandas to digest.
Anthony admitted that he felt anxious the first time he fed a panda. “It was sitting down staring at me, while holding the bars ... I was scared, so it took me a long time to feed it,” said the Year 10 student, who said he later realised that the panda was probably just curious because it didn’t recognise the new carers.
“We were told to sit or kneel down while feeding them, otherwise the pandas might feel intimated,” added 12-year-old Marco Stephen Lam.
Aside from feeding the pandas bamboo, the students also baked some panda-friendly bread for the animals, made with rice flour, eggs, and cornmeal.
Over the three days the students spent looking after the black and white bears, they also helped to tidy their enclosures, including a large space with grass and trees.
“We picked up bamboo that had been discarded by the pandas, those that no longer looked fresh or good to eat anymore,” explained Katie. “We also shovelled up their faeces,” she said, adding that the smell was quite overpowering.
“One thing I liked about the pandas is that they all seem to have their own personalities,” said Justin.
“[For example,] when the staff came in to give milk to a pair of baby pandas, one climbed down from a tree but the other one didn’t want to,” he explained.
“There were two small ones that looked like they were wrestling,” Katie chimed in.
“It looked so fun, and they were rolling around really slowly!”
Scarlett Tam, 12, was moved by the inter-species relationships. “It was nice seeing the close connection between the pandas and the staff,” she said. “They’re like friends, and the pandas are always really happy to see their caretakers.”
“Seeing how so many people from all over the world come together to help these animals really showed me how determined we humans can be when it comes to protecting things that we love,” said 14-year-old Gabriel Phong Tuan Barlier.