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July 23, 2008

Giant Pandas at the Beijing Zoo

You don’t need to leave the States to see a panda, but 20 yuan and a trip to the Beijing Zoo will allow you to see the furry creatures on their home turf. According to Xinhua news agency, fewer than 2000 pandas remain, with all but 27 living in China. The pandas at the Beijing Zoo seem to be treated well, but other animals live in far less desirable conditions -- I went to see the pandas first and left soon after.

For photographers hoping to capture pandas in a more natural habitat, head to Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, home to 128 pandas. Conditions at the zoo are not favorable for photographers, with thick, dirty glass separating the animals from the public, and hundreds of tourists fighting for a view. I’d never seen a live panda before my visit, but was surprised to see that the bears have a dirtier coat than what I imagined, with their fur an off-white color.

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If you’re headed to the zoo during your visit to Beijing, plan to arrive around 9:30 when the pandas are still munching on bamboo -- I’ve been told that they’re far less active in the afternoon. Allow about an hour for your visit -- if you have more time to spare, check out the Zoo Market above the bus station across the street -- it’s a hit with the locals.

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