Winter has arrived! Well… according to the Chinese calendar that is. If following our Gregorian Calender we still have another 13 days to go…however, here in the Qinling Mountains, I have no doubt the weather has chosen to go by the Chinese calendar!! Last Wednesday it started snowing here for the first time this season and continued throughout the night. As mentioned below in Alex’s article ‘North China is Hit by Blizzard’ (Nov 11), snow that heavy is apparently an unusual occurrence this early in the year. I awoke to find a winter wonderland – everything covered in a few inches of snow. Just spectacular!
The giant pandas in Changqing have obviously noticed the change in seasons also. There have been sightings of two different giant pandas by our staff in the last couple of weeks, signalling that they have started to descend to the valleys for the cold weather. During June to September each year, the majority of our 100 strong panda population live in the high mountains. In the high mountains of Changqing Reserve, a small type of arrow bamboo is present, Fargesia qinlingensis. The pandas feed on the shoots of this species, occasionally having some cane and leaf also. Seeing giant pandas during this time is very difficult for both staff and visitors to the Reserve. This is not only because they are located high in the mountains, but also because the arrow bamboo leaves are very small and dense, making visibility difficult. Even if a panda was happily eating or sleeping only 10 meters away, it may be difficult to find!
Around October is when most giant pandas in Changqing Reserve begin to descend down the mountains in order to spend between October and May in the middle and low mountains. In these lower lying areas, a second species of bamboo, Bashania fargesii, is found. This bamboo has larger leaves and is taller than the arrow bamboo, however due to its formation has gaps in between not only the cane but also the leaves. While finding a giant panda in the wild is never easy, this, in addition to them being located lower down the mountain, does makes sighting them easier. It is during autumn and winter, that the giant pandas eat the leaves of this larger species of bamboo. I recently learnt that having at least two different species of bamboo in a giant pandas range is paramount to their survival, to avoid starvation. This is due to bamboo dying out after it flowers.
So hopefully the emergence of the snow will also mean the emergence of giant pandas…