Traveling in China: Working in the Panda Kindergarten

Day 3. This was the day I had been waiting for. We would be able to "play" with the kindergarten pandas. I didn't even mind waking at 6:30.

Once at the Preserve, we donned out brown maintenance coveralls. For the first time we put blue plastic covers over our shoes, tucked our gloves into a pocket and proceeded to the kindergarten play area--a large grassy enclosure with a swing, hanging tires, jungle gym with a ladder and lots of trees for climbing. But before we could play, we had to earn our keep. Our job was to clean what appeared as a stone and slate patio area before the pandas were let out of their cages. The staff useds old fashioned stick brooms which we found worked much better than the straw ones we use at home.

Sweeping up the upper patio of the play area Holding the dustpan while Frances sweeps the greenery in

Once we had swept up the bamboo, plant detritus and panda droppings from the previous day, we moved on to sweeping and mopping the tiled area around the courtyard where the kindergartner' cages and the room with the incubator were located.

Satisfied that we had created a neat, clean area, we were rewarded with bowls of milk for the panda kids. The keepers accompanied us inside the cages but there did not appear to be any need for that. The 'kids' were thrilled to get their bowls and lapped hungrily at them.
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Petting the panda babies In the cage with the babies Panda drinking milk close up

Finished, the keepers swooped down on them, dish towel in hand to wipe their mouths. Then we were ushered out.

But my panda decided she wanted to leave with me. The keeper made a grab for her but she evaded him and slipped out the door, hanging on to my pant leg. He finally grabbed her and pulled her off my pant leg but in no time she had grabbed by hand and hung on for dear life. If she'd been a child, she'd have been screaming "I want to go with her" at the top of her lungs. Reluctantly, I eventually managed to pull her lose.  What a shame. I was ready to take her back to my hotel room. It was like having my own stuffed panda come alive.

Play over, we returned to the kitchen where we rinsed out their bowls before they were placed in the sterilizer.

Washing the milk bowls

Meanwhile, having had their milk, the babies were let out into the play area that we had just cleaned. With our dishwashing chores completed, we picked up our clipboards with a new set of observation sheets and joined the tourists (almost all of whom are Chinese, we have seen very few Western tourists) around the fence of the play area to observe our babies. Frances and I were assigned Zhang Zhang.

Tourists in colorful flower hats watch pandas play

The facilitators gave us our new charges and we began our observations. After the fairly lazy adults we had observed the previous day, we suddenly found ourselves confronted with lots of play activity and frantically began leafing through our codebook to locate the appropriate subcodes for such 7b activities as climbing the ladder, rolling around and tugging at each other, and gnawing  the grass.

Panda on platform Pandas play on short treesPanda playing in the grass rev Panda playing with something

Eventually two began a game of hide and seek. One lumbered under the jungle gym in what was a little cave while the other climbed the apparatus, then, startled to find herself alone, hung down over the edge, trying to locate the one below who would periodically peek out from the shadows.  Meanwhile a third climbed a tree and remained there, resting, for the duration of our observation.

Frances and I were teamed again. We watched one panda gambol under the jungle gym in what was a little cave while our panda climbed the ladder to the top of the gym and began a game of hide and seek, hanging upside down, trying to reach the one below. The third panda  found a tree, climbed it and remained there for the duration of the 30 minutes we observed. The tourists stretching along the fence began to realize what we were doing, and, when our panda would jot off to one end of the yard where we couldn't follow her, they would point her out to us as we made our way to that end of the yard. By the time lunch rolled around, we were ready. We had had our exercise for the day.

Back at the seminar room, we received a quick tutoring session on putting data into the Preserve's master data base and then began inputting the data we had collected over the past two days. Our data was actually being integrated into this master data base from which the research results from this based flowed. We were truly a part of a major research undertaking to learn about pandas.

Filed under: China, Pandas, Travel

Tags: Panda research

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    Carolyn Boiarsky

    " I am an American," but not "Chicago born" like Augie March. Only Chicago aged. I'd like to think that if Henry Louis Gates were to investigate my geneology, he would discover in my past three women who traveled around the globe, chronicling their adventures. Sarah Kemble Knight traveled 112 miles by carriage from Boston to New York in 1704, a journey most women did not embark on alone (and men did so only with some trepidation). In fact, women were only just beginning to exercise their independence in the 1920's when Emily Kimbrough took off with her friend, Cornelia Otis Skinner, to explore Europe. But it is Auntie Mame, transforming herself from a New Yorker to the wife of an Austrian Baron and climbing the Matterhorn, whose mantra I have adopted. "LIFE IS A BANQUET...LIVE!" I began travelling in the 1960's when I traveled around western Europe between graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and my first job as a statehouse correspondent for UPI (United Press International) in Charleston, West Virginia, which was about as foreign a place as Europe was to someone who grew up in the environs of Philadelphia. Since then, I've also traveled to Kaunas, Lithuania, to teach at Vytautus Magnus University and to Sheffield, England, to present a paper at an engineering conference. I've been to the Alps and seen Auntie Mame's Matterhorn while climbing, by a series of cable cars rather than by foot, toward the peak of Mont Blanc. For 10 years my husband and I traveled to unique places: a sheep farm during lambing season in England's Lake Country, a hotel on one of the Barromeo Islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, and a cottage in Dun Quin on the Dingle Peninsula which the Irish claim is the last parish before Boston. Between excursions, I'm a professor in the Department of English at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana,. My husband passed away recently and, Auntie Mame-style, I am in the process of transforming myself. I've joined a tour to Central Asia and traveled to China to work with the pandas. Two years ago, I returned to Europe--Inreland, England, and France--to present a paper at a Conference and then visit friends. It's 2017 now and London once again draws me in. This time I'm fulfilling my dream of taking my grandchildren to Europe. I've rented a flat near Hyde Park and ordered London passes for everyone. A new adventure. Old friends. Another banquet.

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