"The key memory I will take away with me would have to be feeding panda cake to a lovely female panda named Ying Hua" - read about volunteer Holly Card's experience on our China Panda Breeding Programme!
1) Why did you choose this particular project?
Well a lot of the wildlife projects closer to home were mainly marine projects and I can't swim, so I had to look a bit further afield. Asian culture has always interested me so it was really a choice between pandas and elephants, and in the moment pandas appealed to me the most.
2) Which kind of work and activities did you do during your project?
So for the first few days we spent time in the city of Chengdu. A lovely local girl named Grace showed us around and helped us out a lot so we got to experience the best places for food and sights. Then we went over to Ya'an, Bifengxia where I cleaned the panda enclosures once a day and fed them four times a day. I spent most of my free time at the kindergarten watching the baby pandas. We also had a good hike up to a nearby temple which offered some really sensational views.
3) How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?
The culture shock was huge; it's nothing like home. The people are all very friendly - actually, nearly every day I would be surrounded by Chinese people wanting to take photos with us, because of my pale skin and western looks. I guess we were in a rural area where a lot of the locals have fewer chances to meet westerners. The girl, Grace, from Chengdu was one of the nicest people I've met, as were all of the staff at the hostels and project. The food was so different to what I would normally eat, it took getting used to and trying lots of things to see what dishes I liked the best but there was always so much to taste and eat I would never have gone hungry!
4) What was the accommodation like?
The first hostel, the Ms Panda hostel in Chengdu, was very friendly. All of the staff spoke English, and were so helpful! They provided really nice food too. The second hostel was a bit more basic but still very nice and suited our needs. Our room was spacious and the beds warmed up, and there was a really nice room where the volunteers could come together in the evenings and play games, learn Chinese, watch films and even Game of Thrones!
5) What were the staff and other volunteers like?
As I mentioned before the staff were all very nice. We were led by a girl named Lee throughout the project and she was extremely kind, helpful and funny. She knew everything she had to so answered every question asked. At the panda base the staff were also very nice, even with the language barrier. I was working with a man, Alex, who was very smiley and easy to work with, and who evidently loved the pandas.
6) What was your most amazing moment or your best memory?
There are a lot of things I loved; meeting the other volunteers was fantastic but the key memory I will take away with me would have to be feeding panda cake to a lovely female panda named Ying Hua.
7) Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?
I think it was worthwhile certainly to myself, and helping to raise the profile of the panda base through telling people back home all about it, the pictures and videos taken has certainly helped spread awareness of the kind of conservation going on in China for the pandas.
8) What sort of wildlife did you encounter?
Strangely there wasn't a huge amount of other wildlife in Sichuan that crossed our path. Some brightly coloured and exotic birds, a lot of lizards and even a snake. There were a lot of dogs about, too.
9) What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?
I was hoping to come away with a better understanding and knowledge of the Giant Panda and Chinese culture, and experience the beautiful scenery of Sichuan. I have done exactly that, and furthermore I've met some amazing people I will hope to keep in contact with for a long time.
10) Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?
Be open to what's around you; talk to the people you're there with and learn about them too. Be ready to try new things and do whatever is offered to you. Take everything in - and try to be prepared for a lot of walking. If you're doing a project like this one there is a lot of walking up and down and it's pretty tiring if you're not expecting it!
11) What do you have planned next?
I don't have anything as such planned yet, with Frontier. A few other holidays have been booked since I landed home because it's given me the travelling bug, but hopefully next I'll be able to do the Thailand elephant trip!