The Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding

Cubs spend a lot of time playing at the panda base. In the wild, pandas only rear a single cub at a time so cubs typically play with their mothers rather than siblings.

For the past week I’ve finally gotten my opportunity to experience the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.  I’ve had a variety of experiences at the base—including daily opportunities to see giant and red pandas.

For two days this week I’ve participated in a training program for conservation education summer camp counselors.  Next week I’ll be joining one staff member from the Conservation Education Department and six undergraduate/ graduate student counselors in two summer programs in rural panda reserves.  The student counselors have been recruited from a network of clubs, called Green SOS, present on many college campuses.  They’ll be assisting the base staff during the camp to alleviate staff workloads and to help bring young adults into the conservation education field.  Our trainings included a combination of biology, educational techniques and games to get children excited about nature.  The children in these camps (8-12 year olds) live close to two protected areas, Heizhugou and Mabian, which are natural panda habitats.  The camps will last three days at each location and include nature hikes, bird watching, games, educational activities about wildlife, and a final production or talent show.  My contribution (as someone who does not speak Mandarin) will be teaching English each day through games and activities.  I’m excited to see these other regions of the province and work with the other students.

The counselors for our summer camps in Heizhugou and Mabian, including me (far left), Professor Sarah Bexell (second from left), and panda base staff member Liu Fei (behind banner in green shirt), and students from various Green SOS clubs.

I’ve already had an opportunity to visit another panda habitat outside of the city, Dujianyan.  Dujianyan, or Panda Valley, is the field research site for the Chengdu panda base.  It is located over an hour outside of the city in between two mountainous ridges.  In the wild, panda’s typically live on mountain ridges and are native to areas such as Panda Valley.  The site is relatively recently constructed and no pandas live on the ridges currently.  I visited the location with members of the Conservation Education Department as members from a teen summer camp will be visiting there for several days.  The camp is similar to those offered in Heizhugou and Mabian, except it is for teenage students near Chengdu.  We toured the facility and met with staff to organize details of the camp.  Touring the facility involved an hour-long nature walk where we saw wildlife such as snakes, salamanders, and caterpillars (including both benign and the venomous/poisonous snakes and caterpillars).  Currently the site only has several pandas but plans to expand the scope of their work.

A view of Dujianyan, or Panda Valley, the field research site of the Chengdu panda base

Additionally this week the base hosted two biologists from the Chester Zoo, Roger and Simon.  The Chester Zoo, a partner of the base, has given grants to the base and nearby nature reserves to expand education, rehabilitate enclosures, and fund various projects on the reserves.  For example, they have funded alternative economies for residents near the reserves to deter from collective wildlife products (bamboo, mushrooms, and timber) and constructed clean-burning gas powered stoves to reduce logging.  They’ve also structured their funding to build the capacity of the rural reserves, increasing collaboration between reserves and building partnerships with surrounding communities.  They visited the panda base on Friday to see how several grant projects came to fruition and discuss potential future projects.

In between my trainings, visits, and tours I had opportunities to explore the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.  The base is an extensive park that includes a lake, egret nesting colonies, restaurants, and a panda cinema in addition to the giant and red pandas themselves.  Adult giant pandas do not live together and leave their mothers once they become “adolescent” sub-adults (between 1-5 years old).  As a result, cubs on the base interact with each other or with their mothers but adults typically have their own enclosures.  All told there are over a dozen enclosures and quite a few panda cubs on the base.  I had an opportunity to see them active in the early-mid-morning period when they typically begin their long day of eating.  I had a blast watching the pandas but honestly my favorite part of the base was the second red panda enclosure.  In this area, many red pandas live together in a large enclosure.  A boardwalk for visitors runs through the middle of the enclosure and has many openings in the fence so the red pandas can move freely about.  Regularly accustomed to people, I had several red pandas walk within inches of me (they’re roughly larger than an average house cat but smaller than most dogs)!

I had several days to explore the base through opportunities to collect research data for an upcoming exhibit.  The panda base and the Chengdu Zoo will partner to create an exhibit on the international wildlife trade, featuring information on how wildlife is used for food, medicine, or curios—or harmed in the process of other forms of trade.  Over 600 surveys of native-Chinese visitors will be conducted in the coming months.  My role was to begin surveying English-speakers (on a smaller scale) to gauge their interest or knowledge in this field.  It is important to note that while China is the largest consumer of wildlife products, the United States is the second largest consumer!  Unfortunately I won’t be able to see this exhibit as it is just in the planning stage but I am excited to learn from the data I collected.

My visits to the panda base are largely over now and I am headed out to the rural reserves shortly!

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Be the change that we wish to see within ourselves!!!!! Classroom/Self Advocacy 101

As social workers, we learn about the importance of advocacy and empowerment. We are called to work with and serve those most marginalized and oppressed in our communities, but often forget that as students and professionals, we must also advocate for our own needs and learning opportunities. We each come into the profession with a unique set of goals about how we hope to learn and impact change, and often, in order to achieve those goals, we must be able to advocate for ourselves to create a constructive and challenging learning environment. Here are some advocacy tips:

Critically assess your own needs and have a firm grasp over your personal and professional expectations.

Work on creating open and transparent relationships with professors and field instructors/supervisors in order to allow for respectful and valuable dialogue.

Develop relationships with peers and colleagues to not only challenge and learn from one another, but also create a healthy learning environment in the classroom.

Maintain confidence in your own capacity and push and challenge yourself to build the networks needed to reach your academic and professional goals.

2nd Quarter Internship

My field placement experience has changed drastically since first quarter.  The work I did at my adoption agency during my first quarter seemed mundane and pointless.  I rarely felt like the was contributing to the agency or being of value.  That’s now all changed!

After receiving training in early December to complete SAFE Home Studies, Continue reading “2nd Quarter Internship”

National Recognition for Faculty

Editing GSSW Magazine in one of the best parts of my job because it gives me the chance to interview and write about our terrific faculty, students and alumni. For example, two of our faculty members have won major national awards in the past few months. Continue reading “National Recognition for Faculty”

Internship Challenges

Coming into the DU program, I knew that I would have an internship along with classes for both years, and I met with Kate Ross, one of the field placement coordinators to get a list of people to contact.  She gave me a long list and I began the interview process, ending up at a nationally recognized organization doing research and advocacy.  The program I am working is a mentoring program for children in out of home care – meaning with kin (i.e. grandparents) or foster care.  I work with two children, meeting with them individually once a week and bringing them to a sort of group counseling session once a week.

At first I was a little skeptical of DU placement for my internship, and in a way it just sounded like an advanced form of Big Brothers Big Sisters.  What I’ve found however, is an amazingly challenging and instructive internship where I’m learning how to write case notes, participate in case conferences within a clinical team, and even navigate social services to help find services for one of my cases.

Due to my previous field experience I was given two of the more challenging cases in our program, and although the cases are definitely living up to the challenging reputation, I’m loving every minute of it!  I’ve been tired, stressed, upset, and pushed to the limit – but it’s exactly what I needed and wanted!  I’ve learned so much and I incorporate what I learn in our classes on a daily basis.  My internship is definitely the perfect fit for me!