Until March, Chenyu “Jason” Chou ’23, Hanzhi “Kevin” Kang ’22, Chak Shing “William” Li ’23, Yuchen “Jerry” Sun ’24, Tiantong “Tong” Wang ’23, and Dexiang “John” Xu ’24 had only met online, taking classes remotely from their homes throughout China. But during Cardigan’s spring break, they met for a 10-day camp at Wanglang National Reserve in Sichuan, China for a little team work and some hands-on learning about the preservation and protection of the giant panda and its habitat.
Established in 1965, Wanglang National Nature Reserve is one of the first four nature reserves set up specifically to protect endangered giant pandas, as well as other rare wild animals, and their habitat. Located in northwestern Sichuan province, the reserve covers 320 square kilometers (124 square miles). While eco-tourism is growing in the area, the local Baima people continue to eke out a living raising livestock and harvesting timber as well as mushrooms and rare herbs, often illegally within the park boundaries.
During their 10-day camp, the Cardigan boys hiked, cleaned up the local roads, recorded data about the park’s forests, and set up non-invasive infra-red cameras in order to capture thermo images of animals. “In the cameras we saw hog badgers, leopard cats, blue-eared pheasant, horses, and cows,” says Tong. “I regret that we didn’t see pandas but it was still very good and interesting.”
With snow still covering the forest floors, the hiking was difficult. “The most challenging part was probably the first day when we had to hike through very thick snow,” says Kevin. “It was challenging because we had to walk a pretty long way, and walking through snow meant getting our socks wet. We also had to get used to the high altitude. However, the view was amazing, which always helps.”
In addition to their volunteer work, the boys also learned about the park’s conservation efforts and the competing interests of the local people. “People are cutting down too many trees for roads in their communities,” reflects Jerry. “This is destroying a lot of the panda’s habitat and now pandas can only live on the tops of the mountains at like 3000-4000 meters.”
Livestock grazing is also an issue. “We learned about the purpose of catching and observing animals,” says William, “but I think the thing I mostly cared and thought about is that livestock are taking away the foods that pandas need.”
For many of the boys, it was just a beginning; the camp has sparked in them an interest in wildlife conservation and biological research. Many hope to return, to see the elusive panda and contribute further to data and research.
“I realized that passion is everything if you want to be an animal protector,” says Kevin. “The quality of living there wasn't too good, but I could see everyone had so much passion for their jobs and animals that they could easily put up with it…I would definitely do it again, because this time I would be used to the snow and the high altitude, and would definitely enjoy it more. This has made me want to know more about animals, and nature in general.”
John agrees: “I really want to do it again and now I am very curious about other things. Like, what about the other animals? Not just the pandas. Maybe I should investigate more about birds and other animals. That could also be very fun.”
Holding on tight to their new plans for the future, the boys also went home with newly forged friendships with their Cardigan brothers. This has been a difficult, and sometimes lonely year for many of our remote students, but for 10 days they were able to spend time with their classmates, not only learning about pandas but about each other as well.