Experiences > Wildlife attractions > Asia > Giant Pandas

Location: China

The giant panda is the icon of wildlife conservation and one of the most recognisable and adored animals on earth. The national symbol of China, it has lived throughout the country for millions of years. However the widespread destruction of its habitat due to the expansion of cities and farmland has led to a decimation in its numbers and it is now an endangered species with only an estimated 1600 left in the wild. Reserves covering some 16,000 square kilometres have been created by the Chinese government high in the mountains of Sichuan Province in an effort to protect the remaining pandas.

Because of their location and scarcity it is extremely difficult to see giant pandas in the wild. The best chance of encountering these unique animals is at breeding and research centres, in particular in the city of Chengdu and the mountain town of Wolong (left). An extraordinary research and breeding program over the past few years has overcome the panda’s reluctance to breed in captivity through artificial insemination and an increased understanding of panda reproduction. Funded in part by the loaning of panda pairs to foreign zoos, there are now over 300 pandas in captivity, a stable breeding population that will facilitate the next phase in the program – reintroduction to the wild.

The only previous release of a captive panda ended when Xiang Xiang was beaten to death by wild pandas in 2006. The next phase of release will be a gradual reintroduction in special reserves, with animals that adapt best to the wild progressing through several zones before full release. The entire process is likely to take 15 years, but the long term survival of the giant panda will be dependent on the protection of its remaining habitat for both wild and reintroduced animals.


Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province. As well as a base for exploring nearby attractions, Chengdu is an interesting city in its own right. More relaxed than most big Chinese cities, it is renowned for its tea houses, best samples in the tranquil Renmin Park. Other sites of interest include Wuhou Temple dedicated to the legendary Zhuge Liang and a giant statue of Chairman Mao. Sichuan food is considered the best in China and Chengdu is a fine place to taste this famous, spicy cuisine. Sichuan is also famous for being the home of the Giant Panda. These beautiful creatures are endangered and very difficult to see in the wild so a visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu offers a great chance to get close to the animal synonymous with China. The centre is a world leader into research on panda conservation and breeding and provides a home for them that mimics their natural habitat.

Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains

Sichuan is home to the Giant Panda and the sanctuaries in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains contain 30% of the world's pandas. This unique species, recognised as a National Treasure of China and an icon of global conservation, is highly endangered due to the destruction of its habitat. These sanctuaries comprise seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks (also home to other endangered animals such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard) as well as the captive breeding centre in Wolong. As giant pandas are extremely difficult to spot in the wild, a trip to Wolong offers the chance to see pandas young and old in a mountainous setting akin to their wild home. A donation to the centre also offers the chance for a brief interaction with the younger pandas.

Huanglong Valley

Huanglong Valley is situated in northwest Sichuan Province. It comprises extensive areas of snow-capped mountains, including the easternmost glacier in China, as well as diverse forest ecosystems, gorges, limestone formations, waterfalls and hot springs. In addition to its natural beauty, Huanglong is a habitat for a number of endangered species including the giant panda, Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey, Asiatic black bear, Pallas' cat and Sichuan takin.

Jiuzhaigou Valley

Jiuzhaigou Valley in northern Sichuan Province encompasses 720 km² and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Located in the Min Shan Mountains, it reaches heights of more than 4,800 metres and the valley comprises a diverse series of forest ecosystems, classic ribbon lakes, narrow conic karst landforms and spectacular waterfalls, including Nuorilong Falls - at 320 metres the widest in China. The valley is also inhabited by endangered animals such as the giant panda, white-lip deer, golden monkey and the Sichuan takin.

Travel to Giant Pandas

Organised group tours: Click here to see 18 tours to China which may include Giant Pandas.

Further Exploration for Giant Pandas

Bradt Chinese Wildlife

Wildlife Guides

Chinese Wildlife

Mar 2008 (1st ed.)
208 pages

Author(s): Martin Walters