Playing with pandas

Updated: 2014-02-25 07:30

By Huang Zhiling (China Daily USA)

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"By training captive pandas to give blood and submit to exams, we can better understand their health and reproductive cycle, thus improving our captive breeding methods. Training pandas also reduces stress and improves the welfare of our captive population so that they can have healthy offspring for the release program," the base chief Zhang Zhi he says.

Ayala also helps to train red pandas on the base. To shift all 103 of them from one den to another, keepers used to capture them using nets which can be quite difficult. It was Ayala who came up with the idea of teaching them to enter a crate so they can be moved more easily.

"It took me many months to train the red pandas. They are very shy and timid. First I had to teach them to eat from my hand and then, like the giant panda, I taught them to touch their noses to a pole. Once they learn to touch their noses to the pole, all you have to do is put the tip in the crate and they will enter it," he says.

While he finds red pandas very cute, they can scratch and bite very hard, much harder than a cat or dog of the same size. This is because, like giant pandas, they have strong jaws for breaking bamboo, says Ayala, showing the scratches on one of his hands.

Ayala has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for his colleagues and hopes to continue his work at the panda base for as long as possible.

Playing with pandas

"I feel like part of a big family here, I work so intimately with my co-workers like Liu Songrui and Lou Li. They are just like my sisters and never let me get homesick," Ayala says.

Ayala admits that he has fallen in love with the laid-back Chengdu life-style, known for it's picturesque tea-houses, hotpot and spicy food.

He likes the spicy tofu in a famous local restaurant near his house." Each week, I visit the Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant at least once," he says.

"James enjoys his life no matter at work or after work. When he is working, he is 100 percent focused on the work it self," says Lou Li, a veterinarian in the base.

"After work, he is a pure Chengdu native. I can't say he is a foreigner because he enjoys the Chengdu lifestyle a lot."

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