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With fewer than 2,000 pandas left in the world, roughly 300 of which live in captivity, it is rare to get even a glimpse of the notoriously shy creatures. But every year, a lucky few get the chance to feed, bathe and exercise the endangered animals at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, China.

For a price in the high six figures per person, the boutique tour agency Remote Lands grants only a few guests each month private, day-long access to an entire enclosure in the preserve, where as many as five pandas eat and sleep. Once inside, staff members train the visitors on how to safely interact with the animals. Since the adult pandas are strong and can be dangerous, the guests feed them bamboo through the bars with long sticks. The pandas bite off the hard outer part of the stalks and eat the soft fibres within.

Since bamboo is so low calorie, the pandas must eat almost constantly – which also means that they can make quite the mess. As part of the experience, VIP guests also do their fair share of hosing off the animals in the afternoon and cleaning the panda pens.

“It is not at all the same as a zoo,” said Remote Lands co-founder and CEO Catherine Heald, who recently tried the experience for herself. “I was surprised at how large the preserve is and how big the enclosures are.” And the animals need the space; fully grown pandas can weigh up to 150kg and grow as tall as 1.8m. 

The preserve now has 111 pandas, a huge increase from its original population of six in 1987. The research centre has been the world’s most successful at breeding pandas in captivity, so the preserve also sees its fair share of cubs. Visitors can hold and cuddle these cubs, since the babies are much less aggressive and more playful than the adults.

As part of the behind-the-scenes panda experience, a private guide shuttles guests around the rest of the 260-acre preserve, which also houses red pandas, golden monkeys, cranes and other rare birds.

Aside from the Remote Lands fee for a private driver and guide, the entire cost of the experience goes back to the research base for the continued care and preservation of captive and wild panda populations.

Practicalities
Email info@remotelands.com for pricing. Chengdu’s Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is open 8 am to 6 pm daily, and costs 58 Chinese yuan for standard admission, which includes walking access to the park but no one-on-one time with the pandas and cubs.

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