On the Trail of Giant Pandas in China

Wildlife & Ecosystems

On the Trail of Giant Pandas in China

How can we support the long-term welfare of the giant panda, one of the world’s most beloved and endangered species?

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This expedition invites volunteers to become active participants in panda care, observation, and long-term conservation.

The bamboo-chewing giant panda is one of the most iconic endangered animals in the world. In the Sichuan Province of China, you’ll work up close with pandas that are being cared for in captivity so that they may breed and live longer and healthier lives.

This exciting project takes place at the Ya'an Bifengxia panda base, which is currently home to more than 80 captive pandas. As an Earthwatch team member, you'll have the rare opportunity to monitor and record the daily behavior of the pandas. You'll help prepare and deliver bamboo to the pandas and keep their living area clean. You'll watch and sort videos taken of pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve, Bifengxia's sister panda base, where some pandas are being trained for reintroduction into the wild.

Your work will support the long-term goal of reinforcing small and isolated populations of wild pandas in the region through the strategic release of captive pandas. Your experience will last a lifetime, and it could help the giant panda population for even longer than that.

The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

The long-term aim of this project is to create healthy, self-sustaining wild panda populations.

Habitat destruction has undermined panda populations and diversity, but your involvement can make the difference.

The giant panda is threatened by restriction and degradation of its habitat and its reliance on bamboo for food. Habitat destruction has led to panda populations becoming small and isolated. At present, the giant panda is limited to a few isolated mountain ranges in south-central China. Many surviving subpopulations have fewer than 50 individuals. The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) owns both the Ya'an Bifengxia panda base, where you'll be working on this expedition, and the Wolong National Nature Reserve wilderness training site. Together, these two sites host the largest captive panda population in the world. CCRCGP has been conducting research on training pandas for reintroduction into the wild since 2004. The Ya'an Bifengxia panda base currently has more than 80 captive pandas, of which only about 20 are females of breeding age. There are currently eight pandas at the Wolong panda base, and more are planned to transferred here from the Ya'an Bifengxia panda base.

Giant Panda, China

Research the reintroduction of captive giant pandas to the wild.

The long-term aim of this project is to create healthy, self-sustaining wild panda populations through the release of captive pandas to strengthen small isolated populations of wild pandas.

About the research area

Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, Asia

The Ya’an Bifengxia base draws visitors with its stunning, wild beauty. The base, in Sichuan Province near Ya’an City and Chengdu, the region’s major city, sits in a gorge made up of two valleys. With an elevation ranging from about 2,300 to 6,500 feet (700 to 2,000 meters), the gorge is famous for its lush vegetation - you can find more than 320 species of wild plants here - and its more than 50 waterfalls. There is also a zoo in Bifengxia with about 400 species of animals.

In addition to being known for its proximity to pandas, the city of Ya’an was once the heart of tea cultivation in China and the beginning of the treacherous Tea Horse Road, over which porters transported tea to Tibet and beyond for centuries. Sichuan Province, an agricultural stronghold, is home to many different ethnic groups, including the Yi, Hui, Tibetan, and Miao people, making it an area of diverse cultures and traditions.

Daily life in the field


This is a summary:

  • Day 1: Rendezvous, arrive at Ya’an
  • Day 2: Arrive at Bifengxia, training
  • Day 3: Training, observation of panda behavior
  • Days 4-6: Daily activities include:
  •     • Observing pandas
  •     • Managing video data
  •     • Caring for pandas
  • Day 7: Departure

At the Ya’an Bifengxia base, you’ll help:

  • Observe and record panda behavior. Both in person and over a video feed, you will watch semicaptive pandas and code their behavior. You'll learn how to categorize the behavior of these trainee pandas to evaluate how prepared they are to survive outside the panda base.
  • Care for pandas. You’ll help prepare their food (bamboo) and keep their living quarters clean.
  • Organize data. You’ll help build up the library of panda data, ensuring your work can make an impact on the future of pandas.
  • On most evenings you’ll have personal time after dinner. You may choose to relax at the hotel, or to explore the area within walking distance, which includes local markets, bars, and restaurants.

    Note: Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

Panda volunteer preparing bamboo

Record panda behavior and help prepare their food (bamboo).

The Scientists


Director of the Wolong Special Administrative Region in Wenchuan, China

ABOUT Hemin Zhang

Earthwatch researcher Professor Zhang Hemin is researching the reintroduction of captive giant pandas to the wild and the control of panda epidemic diseases.


Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food

  • Stay at a modern hotel
  • Enjoy wonderful Chinese food
  • Sample Sichuan cuisine

You'll stay in the Ibis hotel in Ya'an, a city of one and a half million. The hotel offers single rooms for all volunteers, as well as en suite bathrooms, Internet access, a dining room, and a bar. You can expect to eat wonderful Chinese food; the local Sichuan cuisine is famous for its spicy flavor. Breakfast may include fruit, biscuits, cereal, hot and dry noodles with sesame paste sauce, bean paste omelets, steamed dumplings, and steamed buns while dinner may include fish and meat dishes, vegetables, rice, and other typical Chinese food. Lunch will be at the research center where you'll join staff for a nutritious meal of rice, local Chinese dishes and fruit. Coffee-lovers can fix themselves a cup of instant coffee in the computer room.

Sichuan Province, China

Sichuan Province, China


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