Foping, Shaanxi, China
It’s estimate that less than 1,600 giant pandas remain on earth, and despite aggressive programs creating reserves for these gentle giants, they are limited in number, and the never-ending threat of poaching leaves their future in question. High in central China’s Shaanxi province, the biologically rich forests of the rugged Qinling Mountains are home to the Foping National Nature Reserve,, the only place in the world where the public is able to track giant pandas in the wild.
The mountains provide abundant cane and bamboo, pandas’ preferred diet, and local trackers and porters guide small groups of wildlife enthusiastic in search of the animals as they forage for good. Summers find the pandas at very high altitudes, making them difficult to follow, but in autumn and early winter, they gravitate to lower stretchers and, with the likely presence of soft snow, tracking becomes easier.
The giant panda, a national treasure in China, is related to the bear family and born so small (weighing about 4 ounces) that it is totally dependent on its mother for the first two years. It eventually grows to 5 feet height and can weigh more than 330 pounds. Sightings of wild giant pandas are never guaranteed at Foping, but it is likely that you will encounter at least one over the course of a few days. While most visitors are here for the pandas, there are also 37 other species of mammals to spot, including the rare and beautiful clouded leopard, the Asiatic brown bear, golden monkey, crested ibis, and golden eagle.
There is basic, comfortable lodging in the reserve at the Sanguanmiao Research Station, with hot and cold solar-powered showers and “green” electricity.
WHERE : 98 miles/158 km north of Hanzhong, 130 miles/120 km southwest of Xi’an.