An early morning show from Chengdu’s pandas

By Jacob Jarvis

It was around 8:00am when the city’s five monochrome celebrities arose from their slumber and nonchalantly bumbled outside – seemingly unaware of the horde gathering to greet them, waiting to coo over their every move.

Nearly two million people visit Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding each year, and, after the gates opened at 7:30am, there were already hundreds of guests weaving their way around the bears’ home.

The sun was low in the sky and, oddly for China, the air felt fresh and crisp, which clearly appealed to the fluffy compatriots. All five bundled themselves over to the bamboo which had been laid out for them, with an almost impressive lack of coordination, and immediately began to bury themselves in the leaves and branches. Their comically round bodies became hidden under the foliage, as they each greedily tucked into their favourite dish. Like children making snow angels in the depths of winter, the cartoon-like creatures rolled around in their morning meal, steadily chomping through it with ease.

Once finished, the most aloof of the pack decided he’d had enough action for one morning, and sauntered off to a shady spot of overgrowth in the enclosure – where he proceeded to stay for the next hour. Looking almost comatose, he stretched out his limbs, tucked his face into his paws, and ignored every gushing sound of adoration aimed in his direction. Clearly he had his own set morning routine, something we can all relate to, and was sticking to it.

In his absence the others seemed to confer for a few minutes, huddling up into a mass of black and white fur, and decide it was their duty to create some entertainment. After having a collective power nap, it’s apparently extremely exhausting work being a panda, the show began.

In their enclosure, was a three levelled wooden platform, with plenty enough room for them all to doze and dawdle for eternity should they wish. However, none of them seemed content with any position except for the top deck, which offered elevation above the fellow bears, shade, and the chance to really pose for the doting onlookers. The battle for this coveted spot led to a clumsy, somewhat half-hearted, play fight breaking out between the comical creatures.

With fair agility, which was rarely on display, the first ‘King of the Castle’ as it were hoisted himself skywards to the desired position. He spread out, seemed ready to rest, looking smug and accomplished – appearing to believe he’d outwitted and outmuscled his contemporaries. Before the self-proclaimed monarch could truly get comfortable though, an alliance formed between the other three bears, as they joined forces to literally knock him off his pedestal.

Paws were thrown, bodies were rolled over each other, light and ineffective bites were exchanged as each tried to steal the top spot. When any bear was pushed to close to the edge, it would almost begin to appear to move in slow motion. A look of mild horror would spread over their face as they tried to steady themselves. Though, to the observers of this adorable conflict, it became apparent that not only could they physically not prevent themselves tumbling, they had too little spatial awareness to figure out how to do so anyway. Instead, in a disorderly and uncontrollable manner, they initiated a cycle of clambering and tussling – which ended in a flailing fall each time.

This routine continued for around an hour, until the gracious performers believed they’d given their fans enough, and decided lounging in the shade and stretching out was more preferable to fighting. Gradually they dispersed and snuggled into the plants around them, or what was left of the bamboo they’d munched for breakfast. Who knew pandas performed as amateur wrestlers in their spare time?

If you’re thinking of visiting Chengdu and would like to see the performing pandas yourself, the entrance fee to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is 58RMB – make sure you arrive early to beat most of the crowd. For more information, please click here

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