Before I left for my recent 17-day trip across seven cities in China, a friend asked if I would be in Ya’an on 12 May this year. In previous years, I’d been in Ya’an on that day to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 earthquake. But not this year. This year on 12 May, I would be with my second adopted panda, Gong Zhu, in her new home in Ganzhou Zoo. But looking back on the trip, and especially the two days I was with her, I realised I had commemorated this year’s 8th anniversary of the 2008 earthquake, but in a different way than previous years’.
If not for the 2008 earthquake, I would not have gone to Bifengxia Panda Base where I was assigned to the keeper looking after Gong Zhu. I would not have helped look after her for a week, formed a bond with her, and later, after returning home, decided to adopt her after rearranging my financial commitments.
God works in mysterious ways. I commemorated the 2008 earthquake’s 8th anniversary by spending it with the panda I’d adopted as a result of the earthquake. I’ve visited her almost every year (sometimes twice a year) since 2008, except for the year she was sent to Hetaoping.
Gong Zhu and another panda, Han Yuan, were moved to Ganzhou Zoo in early February this year, in time to go on public exhibit during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holidays. I think this is the first time Gong Zhu’s lived away from Sichuan Province while Han Yuan has lived in three other places – Shanghai Zoo, Shanghai Wild Animal Park and Ningbo Zoo – before coming to Ganzhou Zoo, and she’s only eight this year.
Gong Zhu and Han Yuan are also the first pair of pandas to live here. Ganzhou Zoo has never had pandas before. The panda house is new, with both indoor rooms and outdoor yards, one of both for each of them. Perhaps due to lack of space, the panda house is built on a slope with no path for visitors to walk around to see the outdoor yards. Instead, the panda house is a two-storey structure, with the top storey providing a viewing area from which to view their yards. The result is an aerial view. Not exactly the best view of Gong Zhu and Han Yuan when they are outdoors.
While the layout of the panda house may not be the best for visitors, what’s important for me is that the pandas are well cared for. I think they are, although it could be better.
Mr Ren, a keeper from Dujiangyan, had accompanied Gong Zhu and Han Yuan to Ganzhou Zoo, and scheduled to be there for six months. He is a good friend and I was looking forward to see him as well as Gong Zhu. Unfortunately, two days before the start of my trip, he was called home on some family business. I was disappointed not to see him and to discuss with him my impressions of the panda house. Instead, I got to meet Mr Fu, the local keeper who would take over the pandas’ care after Mr Ren completes his six months in Ganzhou Zoo.
Of the two pandas, Gong Zhu has adapted better than Han Yuan. She has a very good appetite. Unlike the usual panda habit of eating and sleeping, she ate more than she slept during my two days’ visit. When she was not eating or sleeping, she was walking around a fair bit.
Han Yuan has not adapted as well. She hardly eats the bamboo provided for her but has no problem with the supplement food – the carrots, apples and bamboo shoots. Unfortunately, because bamboo is the panda’s main diet, if she goes too long without it, her health will be affected. Ganzhou Zoo’s panda team needs to find a source of bamboo that will meet Han Yuan’s taste.
Han Yuan was also a big surprise for me. I’d assumed Han Yuan was male, and even when Mr Fu mentioned both of them were in estrus the previous month, it still did not click for me. It was only after I returned home that I found out Han Yuan is female. But that’s not the surprise. The surprise – a happy one – is that she is our Fu Wa’s younger half-sister, born of the same mother. I was so happy to find another family connection to Ganzhou Zoo.
For sure, I will visit Gong Zhu and Han Yuan in Ganzhou Zoo again, the same way I visited Feng Yi when she was living in Guilin. The next time I visit, I hope to see Han Yuan enjoying her bamboo.
Outside view of the Ganzhou Zoo panda house, with a partial view of Gong Zhu’s outdoor yard
and the viewing area on the first floor
Aerial view of the two yards from the first floor viewing area