Quick Question about Giant Pandas in China

Hi all,

I’m going to China with my mom and my sister in April. Now, we’re only going for like 10 days and the purpose is purely touristic, meaning we’re going to see things that “regular” people go to see in China. So it’s totally not my style of travel, but then again, my mom is paying for it, so I really can’t complain… And I definitely do want to see the touristic things the first time I’m in China.

HOWEVER… I also can’t imagine going all the way to China and not trying to catch some endemic species. So, I was wondering if there’s any way to go for 1-2 nights to the Qinling mountains purely for Giant Pandas, even if it requires completely ignoring the other stuff around there (golden takin, snub-nosed monkey etc.).

Or would you say to just not worry about it this time, and concentrate on mammal watching “next time” I’m in china..? As an avid mammal watcher, I 100% recognize that china is a Megadiverse country and going to see “just” the Giant Panda for the lack of time and interest by other participants is kind of a waste, but if I have this ‘notch under my belt’ I will be able to concentrate on other stuff when I come to China for wildlife watching.

For those of you who know China well, my mom told me we will be in the following places: Beijing, Chengdu, Bifengxia, Leshan, Emeishan, Huanglong, Jiuzhaigou, Chongqing, Dazhu, Fenghuang, Zhangjiajie area.

Are any of those a good starting point for Giant Panda tracking? I know the Qinling Mountains are closest to Xi’an but my mom has been there before and wants to see new things so we’re not going to stop by there.. If Giant Panda is completely out of the question, are there any other good mammal stuff for 1 or 2 night outings from the places I mentioned? Like I said, since my mom is paying for the trip, I might be able to squeeze in 1-2 days of wildlife stuff, and that’s it.

Thanks in advance!!! Please throw any information you have at me, Every bit will be helpful and meaningful.



  • Jon Hall

    Hi Tomer, you should always spend a bit of time looking for mammals on every trip! THat’s my advice…

    So far as I know the Giant Panda reserve in the QInlings is shut to tourists. I might be wrong but that was what I last heard so I don’t think Giant Pandas are an option at the moment.

    But, if you can get away for 2 or more days then you could try to do something around Chengdu. My trip report from 2009 has some ideas http://mammalwatching.com/Palearctic/palearctchinasichuan2009.html And Richard Webb’s report from 2012 has some more http://mammalwatching.com/Palearctic/palearctchina.html (see the list of other reports on this page to find Richard’s report). He found an apparently very reliable spot for Red Pandas, plus Pallas’s Cat etc. I’d say Sichuan is arguably the best place in all China for mammal watching, though hopefully Coke Smith will offer you some advice and his advice is much better than mine.


  • Cheryl Antonucci

    Hi Tomer!
    All the panda tracking/all panda reserves in China are definitely still closed. I had my entire trip booked to go to Foping this March, which of course did not happen. I am tentatively booked to go the end of next March/start of April (2014) but so far the Chinese have not budged. I am using a tour operator out of the UK and they have been keeping me posted on events. If something changes before your and my possible trip I can let you know.

  • Alexander Coke Smith

    Yes, sorry to say the reserves are closed tight! I visited the Qinling Reserve last spring just to take a peak and try to find some golden Takins along the road and found the entrance locked TIGHT. And the adjacent guard buildings were literally decomposing from neglect. Sadly the Panda trips are a thing of the past. I am not optimistic of them starting again any time soon, and according to my contacts in China – they’re finished. I think we can thank Weibo and some overly ambitious trackers…..

    But there are reserves such as Tiangjiahe that are great for a short trip and can offer a nice list of mammals, and even a very remote chance at a panda. My guide there has seen them many times there by chance – not by tracking. On of my FB contacts, Anna Mandrill (I actually have no idea what her real name is embarrassingly…), just finished a very successful trip to China. You might want to Facebook her name and pose the question to her. I don’t think they actually spotted a panda but they were in a reserve (I forgot the name) but evidently it is one where pandas are spotted from time to time….I will do the same and see about getting some more information.Sorry I could not be more optimisitc!

  • tomeslice

    Thanks for all the info, guys!
    That sucks that the Giant Panda reserves are closed. I believe your pessimism about the situation, but I wonder if it will ever change in the future. Maybe if a 3rd-party global organization steps in and encourages them to enable controlled ecotourism they may budge.

    I will try to look up Anna Mandrill in the near future before my travel.

    Jon, of course I always do some mammal watching, I even do a little bit of it here in Israel whenever I get a chance (I saw an egyptian mongoose on campus the other day, at my university, which was pretty cool). But with my mom it’s different because she always has a very tight daily schedule which encompasses all the day’s activity. Usually it starts pretty early and ends pretty late so there’s no time to go off on my own, plus we rarely stay in 1 location more than 2 nights. But I will definitely try to see if I can convince her to do 1 night in Labahe where Richard Webb found several red pandas and some other interesting stuff.

    I’ll keep you guys updated but I already know I’m not going to have an over-the-top exciting mammal trip report from this adventure.

    • Jon Hall

      Good luck Tomer! WHere there’s a will there’s a way… even if there might be a well-organised mother in the way. And adventures in China are always likely. Just try asking at hotel reception if you can get a massage at 1am and see what happens! Never a dull moment.

      • tomeslice

        Haha! Looks like your trip(s) to China had happier endings than mine will… I will be having a different kind of adventure, the kind you have when you’re with your mom and your younger sister 24 hours a day. But it will be fun nonetheless.

  • Richard Webb

    Tomes, you may want to contact Sid Francis about Labahe, contact details in my reports. Labahe has been shut for much of this year, initially because of ‘illegal’ development work, then the earthquake and then flooding so I’m not sure what current access is like. If you can get there the Red Pandas are pretty easy. Giant Panda also occurs but is rarely encountered although we did find scat. Good luck


  • Mike Richardson


    You may be interested in this link. Only the last few pages are relevant to Labahe (but the whole report will be of interest to mammal watchers)
    In short the author has just visited the reserve (following Richard’s footsteps) so it must have reopened. It appears the Red Pandas are still pretty easy!

    • Mike Richardson

      Post #241 is where you need to start.

      • Israel

        that’s me! I’m still going by the way (currently in Malaysia). But yes, Labahe is open and actually has been all year — apparently officially closed but not really, if that makes sense. I couldn’t get the mammalwatching blog in China (three months withdrawal symptoms!) so a bit of a late reply here.

        In short the red pandas at Labahe have a narrow window for reliable viewing….April is well outside that window but they are still there, will just be harder to find.

        Giant pandas appear to be common there judging by the amount of droppings people see on the boardwalks. Unlikely to see them of course.

  • tomeslice

    Hey guys, all this info is awesome!! Mike, the report is very detailed, with logistics and specific locations where the red pandas were found, as specific as can be.
    I will definitely look into it. I still have to convince my mom to reserve 1-2 days for going there, which right now doesn’t sound too promising, but we’ll see.

  • tomeslice

    Guys, I have the itinerary from my mom and it’s not very flexible… Granted it’s not very mammal-oriented (surprise, surprise) but I DEFINITELY still want to try to find mammals in the places I’m going, so without wasting your time, here are the relevant places (not including nights and days inside cities):

    Huanglong NP – only 1 day and no night… Any tips?

    Jiuzhaigou – 2 nights with the previous afternoon and the following morning.. I see that *potentially* this park has a LOT of interesting stuff (I’d be happy with just a single clouded leopard.. I’m not that greedy). but is there an accomodation INSIDE the park? Can a spot-lighting trip be arranged either on park trails or roads, or roads just outside the park? Honestly all of the wildlife of the park are interesting to me especially since I’ve never been to Eastern Asia (besides Japan) so either of the panda species, asiatic black bear, the monkeys (especially golden snub-nosed) and obviously the cats. I’m sure the wildlife data is insufficient, and there are probably also smaller cats present… If anyone has any info at all, or any birding guide they can point me to (or even better a mammal guide, though I kind of doubt one exists) that would be extremely awesome. I also read in Mark Vein Beirs’ report that he saw a Raccoon dog here, which would be nice!

    3. Emeishan Area – 1 night

    4. Dazu – 1 night

    5. Zhangjiajie – 2 nights with previous afternoon and almost full day following the 2nd night. Granted, we obviously need to see the touristic stuff during the “heat of the day”, but Pangolins at night???
    Realistically though – where should we stay? Are there any hotels inside the park? Is it allowed to walk around with a bright flashlight at night? Are there any places (or even better, guides who can take me to places) that are particularly known for mammal-watching in the park? Any tips will be extremely welcomed. I can’t even find a list of mammals found in the park…

    I see from the trip reports that these places are too filled with tourists and not with mammals, but those are the places I’m going so any advice would be nice.

    Thanks again!!

    • Israel

      you aren’t allowed to stay inside Jiuzhaigou, you need to stay in the town outside — so no spotlighting! The park itself is ridiculously expensive as well.

      I don’t know the other places. I would definitely recommend Tangjiahe — lots of mammals but only one place to stay and it is expensive. See my Birdforum thread mentioned earlier (the Tangjiahe bit is a few localities before I got to Labahe). Also find the bit where I went to see the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys if that interests you (it was late November) — you can fly cheaply from Chengdu to Lijiang and back. You’re very unlikely to be able to see the other snub-noses — the habituated groups of goldens have all been banned to foreigners and the truly wild ones are far too elusive.

      • tomeslice

        Thanks for all the information, Israel!

        So based on the very inflexible itinerary my mom has put together I’m just not going to see very many mammals, besides by chance.

        Is there no way to go spotlighting between the nearest town and the national park? Is it not allowed, or just not safe or recommended? Are there no nature guides who can help me locate mammals in the park? (Raccoon dogs..?)

        Anyway, it just sounds like next time I’ll visit Sichuan will be a completely different experience

  • Israel

    for Jiuzhaigou there *are* ways to stay inside the park but they are illegal (there are a couple of local villages inside where you may be offered accommodation but as foreigners you would stick out like sore thumbs to the officials). Basically under no circumstances are you allowed in the park outside opening hours. You could do what I sometimes do in that sort of situation — take your spotlighting torch with you and, oops, get lost and not get back to the gates till after dark. You won’t get in trouble because you’re a stupid foreigner who doesn’t know what he’s doing. For costs, you need to pay every time you enter the park (and it is expensive) and then also pay for the bus which drives you around. It has set stops at the attractions (waterfalls, pools, etc). I’ve seen photos of these stops which looked like rush-hour in Beijing there were so many people. You can walk the roads by yourself (i.e. catch the bus from the entrance and then walk from any of the stops, or catch it all the way to the end and then walk all the way back) and that will give you your best bet for birds and mammals because very few people do this. There are trails as well but it seems like the officials keep randomly closing them to keep everyone in view. Sometimes the officials can be a bit grumpy with people just walking on the roads as well but you are allowed. The walking bit would depend on how well your mother and sister can cope, or alternatively if you can leave them to do the regular tourist stops by bus and you head off by yourself. There’s all sorts of mammals there including takin and hog badgers (I saw two hog badgers by day at Tangjiahe, which isn’t *too* far away, one of which I watched foraging for about an hour). The town is basically right outside the gates of Jiuzhaigou (well, there are two towns, one outside and one further away). If your hotel staff speak English you could ask them about animals but they probably won’t know anything; however you could try wandering round the town at night for raccoon dogs and weasels.

    I see from googling (Tripadvisor) that at Zhangjiajie Forest Park you can stay in accommodation on the mountain inside the park as well as in the town outside. You may want to do that because then you are free to spend all night long spotlighting if you want. Nobody cares, and if you get photos the staff all get really interested in anything you have seen. (Everyone at Labahe wanted to see my leopard cat photos!). It sounds like it is another very expensive place to visit though.

    For random other mammals, you should definitely see Tibetan macaques at Emei Shan — just watch them because they are aggressive due to tourists feeding them. Also look out for Lady Amherst’s pheasants and Temminck’s tragopans at Emei Shan! Swinhoe’s striped squirrels are pretty common in Sichuan (they should be at Emei Shan and you might see them at Jiuzhaigou etc), and there are Siberian chipmunks in the north (I saw one at Rilong, sort of near Wolong). Look out for Pere David’s rock squirrels with diagnostic cheek stripe, because these are common so you should see them round the Jiuzhaigou area at least (if you have the Mammals of China field guide it is very bad and the rock squirrel looks nothing like the actual animal). At night — or even by day if there’s no other people around — you might see Reeves’ muntjacs which are pretty common.

    You won’t find mammal lists for any parks or reserves in China online, or even offline usually. You just see what you see.

    • Israel

      oh also, are you still going to be in Beijing? I saw a red squirrel in the Botanic Gardens there.

      Alternatively, if you can arrange it so you go through Shanghai I can (privately) tell you where to see raccoon dogs by day fairly reliably (I tried twice for them and saw them on the second attempt — which happened to be during a typhoon, so they must be reliable!!).

      There are red-bellied (Pallas’) squirrels in a lot of parks around Shanghai too; I saw them at the zoo easily enough. They descend from escaped/released animals (they are usually a mountain species).

  • tomeslice

    Thanks for the tips.
    Unfortunately, like I said, my mom’s itinerary is pretty unflexible and I don’t have an “extra day” to fly somewhere and back.

    But I will be on the lookout for the mammals and birds you mentioned in the places I’m going.

    Also, I will follow your advice in Jiuzhaigou. I wonder if I can roam around the town edge after dark and find some stuff.. Or on the road that leads towards the park itself.. Since I’m sure my mom wouldn’t let me stay there after you’re not allowed.

    But my mom and sisters are keen on the walking part, and not just visiting the touristic stops. So that’s good. They’re also down with waking up super early and taking the first bus into the park. Then taking it all the way to the end and hiking backwards, including trails if they’re open.

    In Zhangjiajie I will look up the hotel inside the park. If it’s decent we will arrange to stay there one night, but if it’s a hostel I doubt my family will want to stay there. That’s the challenge of traveling with the fam. I will walk around though at night for sure. Around the river and the town edge if we stay in the nearest town. Maybe my sister will join me, she’s into the wildlife stuff.

    Anyway, thanks again! I definitely appreciate all the input. I know I don’t have much to work with, I just know there’s a ton of potential, but the Chinese aren’t so developed in mammal watching in some of these crowded areas.

  • Israel

    lots of birders visit Jiuzhaigou so google some trip reports for there to find out some specifics on where the trails are and so forth.

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