I know many of you have a love for giant pandas and want to save this amazing creature from the brink of extinction. The good news is - yes, we can. There are some reserves and organizations in the world that offer volunteer opportunities, especially in China where the giant panda is regarded as National Treasure. If you have a passion for panda volunteer work, read through the following information and you'll know how and where to be a giant panda volunteer.

There are generally two kinds of panda volunteer programs - program for professionals to participate/ do scientific research, and program for tourists to experience. Both charge a certain amount of money to make up for the shortage of funds used in the conservation work of giant pandas. The former requires volunteers to acquire professional knowledge and skills about giant pandas and provide a professional certificate. So in this article, I mainly talk about panda volunteer programs that are suitable for tourists.

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In a giant panda volunteer program, the typical activities you'll be involved include feeding pandas

Feeding apple to the giant panda with a long stick. 

What activities/work do I need to do as a volunteer?

In a giant panda volunteer program, the typical activities you'll be involved in include feeding pandas (through the cage bar), cleaning the enclosures of pandas, observing panda behavior, and collecting and weighing the feces (the most effective way to check the health of panda), etc. A skilled and experienced educator will assist you to accomplish the activities. You can do other things during rest time, for example, walk around the park, watch pandas, visit the museum and watch panda documentaries, etc.

The final activities you'll do are subject to the panda reserves' arrangements, according to the pandas' actual situation. My suggestion for you is to be patient and cooperative.

A volunteer is feeding the panda through the cage bar

 Feeding apple to the giant panda with a long stick. 

Where is the best place to do volunteer work for giant pandas?

The best place to volunteer is Chengdu, the hometown of giant pandas. Both the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and Bifengxia Panda Reserve offer volunteer programs. Although there are some other panda reserves in China offering similar volunteer experiences, most of which emphasize science research rather than visiting. Chengdu is still the best choice for tourists.

What's the difference between Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and Bifengxia Panda Reserve?

Bifengxia Panda Reserve is bigger and less crowded and the environment is more natural. While Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is more like a well-organized panda zoo with a bigger crowd.

The volunteer work at the two places is quite the same. The tourist who plans to do volunteering for a few days can head to Bifengxia Giant Panda Reserve. For tourists with less time, it would be more convenient to go to the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding near Chengdu. Bifengxia Panda Reserve is located in Ya'an City, 150 kilometers from Chengdu and it takes 2.5 hours to get there from Chengdu.

Cleaning the enclosures of giant pandas as a volunteer

Cleaning the enclosures of pandas as a volunteer

How long does a volunteer program last?

A giant panda volunteer program lasts from a half day to 2 or 3 weeks. Activities will be arranged according to different group sizes, available time, the actual situation of pandas, participants' needs and interests, and other factors. Unless you really have a great passion for the giant pandas, volunteering for 1 or 2 days is good enough.

Can I take photos during my volunteering period?

Yes. Normally you're allowed to take photos of giant pandas. But there are fences between the giant pandas and visitors. 

Who is qualified in joining the panda volunteer program?

Most giant panda volunteer programs require participants to be at least 17/18 years old. In some cases, a minor can also be allowed to participate under the supervision of the minor's parents/ panda keeper or with the written consent of a parent/ panda keeper.

Also, you may need to provide the following information:

a. A health certificate issued by a standard hospital.

b. Your self-introduction. If you have volunteer experience before, please write them down.

c. The copy of your passport.

d. Your contact information such as your address, zip code, E-mail, telephone number, and so on.

What's the cost of taking part in a panda volunteer program?

Most volunteer programs will cost around $100 (per day per person). In general, how much you pay depends on the project you choose and the time of year you go. And it does not include meals, accommodation, extra excursions, flights, visas or any other expenses required during your travel to the volunteer center. An additional fee will be charged for close encounters or photographs with the giant pandas.

Tips for giant panda volunteers:

- Recently, bird flu has struck Mianzhu, Sichuan. To safeguard the captive panda species against the epidemic, any person with influenza shall be barred from contacting these pandas and their food or rearing paraphernalia; they shall also be disqualified from gaining first-hand rearing experience (updated on Dec 20th, 2016).

- In order to ensure the health of the giant pandas and safe operation throughout the activity, please do not wear perfume, nail polish, loud accessories, and slippers/flip-flops; any participants violating such dressing code shall be disqualified from participating.

- Always follow the panda keeper's instructions. 

- For safety purposes, do not get into the cage, touch the adult pandas or let them touch you unless it is permitted. Do not open and close the door under any circumstances.

- Do not turn your back on the pandas when you are working with pandas.

- Do not make noises or any sudden movements. Pandas need a quiet environment.

- Do not throw foods at the pandas, which might disturb pandas' eating regime.

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