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Giant Pandas in the Wild: Will You See Them?

As of Jan 1, 2024, China has simplified visa applications for US citizens and is offering 15-day free visa passes for people from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia. International flights have also multiplied as China works to lure travelers to its shores. This means now is a great time for those of us still yearning to see the giant panda in its natural habitat. Let Wild Nectar handle all the details when it comes to helping you seek out these elusive yet fascinating Chinese residents.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are currently only 1,864 giant pandas in the world. And even though the species was downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” in 2016 due to concerted conservation efforts, the small number of this nearly mythical species makes it extra challenging to view them deep inside their bamboo forests. Roughly 600 pandas live in captivity so that leaves a mere 1264 individuals harboring in the Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces of China.

Genetic studies place the giant panda in the bear species however they are the only members of their genus and have some odd habits and behaviors which make them quite different from other bears. They are largely solitary animals while most bears are very social. They are docile and sleep more than 14 hours per day while other bears are very active except when hibernating. They have special enzymes for digesting bamboo and are mostly herbivores unlike most bears who eat more animals and fish. And they can be found in a very limited region unlike other bears which are found across vast swaths of terrain.

Plus, they’re just so darn cute, aren’t they? This alone inspires many of us to try and see them.

The problem is: not many people do, not in the wild anyway. Even when you travel to the Sichuan province and go into the forest you always need to be prepared not to see them. It’s a different mindset to travel with yet if you did get to see one, how amazing would that be! It’s definitely worth a try.

The program we recommend for this adventure is The Wild Side of China: A Nature Odyssey. The operator of this program partners with the World Wildlife Fund and does fantastic conservation work all over the world. They work with the very best local experts and guides in the regions they visit along with bringing along world-renowned experts. The combination means they will know where to find giant pandas in the wild and exactly how to come as close as possible to seeing them.

Their trip notes suggest, “Guests should not come to China expecting to see wild pandas, but it is exhilarating nonetheless to know we are in their midst. Weather can also affect wildlife sightings, and when it is inclement, animals may be more likely to take cover in the deep forest. However, our itinerary is carefully designed to capitalize on the very best opportunities to see rare Chinese wildlife, maximizing your chances. Our seasoned Expedition Leaders and local guides are experts at locating wildlife—and we encourage our guests to understand that the privilege of stepping into a wild, untouched world inside China is a reward in itself.”

Provisions are made on this trip to experience many other adventures in addition to seeing giant pandas just in case you don’t. You’ll get to see the world-famous Terra Cotta Warriors, a fascinating sight to behold! Unearthed in 1974 in the suburbs outside the walled city, the stone army is one of world's most remarkable archaeological discoveries.

You’ll also get to glimpse many more of China’s animals including Tibetan and rhesus macaques, golden and Sichuan takin, musk deer, muntjac, serow, wild boar and blue sheep. You might even see an endangered moon bear or a red panda! And you will definitely have close-up views of China’s beloved giant pandas in captivity on a visit to the Gengda Wolong Panda Center and at the Dujiangyan Panda Base among other locations. So there will be pandas!

Even if the giant panda eludes you in the wild, you will still have an unforgettable wildlife adventure in China.

Are you ready to confirm one or more of the coveted spaces on this trip? If yes, contact us and we’ll save your places.


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