Qiang Qiang and I – A Keeper’s Story – Part 1 of 4

Qiang Qiang and I

Written by Qiang Zhou, CCRCGP
Translated by Pat Weiyi Zhang


For 8 years I have been working to protect the Giant Panda. Time has flown so quickly and so much has happened during that time between the pandas and myself.  The particular panda that I think of most, however, is Qiang Qiang, whose legs were both fractured when I met him – but first, some history.

A Fantastic Journey

When I was 10, my parents took me to see the pandas in the Wolong Natural Reserve. It was my first time being so close to nature: ranges of lofty mountains, rugged and steep mountain roads, torrential but clear river water, dense and well grown forests, occasionally we were met with a cool breeze and, finally, the pandas that my heart had been longing to see.  Their lovely image left a deep impression in my mind, though at that time I did not know these cute bears would become such a huge part of my life.

Fate is such a wonderful thing. In 2000, when most high school graduates chose to enter prestigious universities and pursue “hot” majors, I applied for the major of Animal Science, which was the least popular, despite my family’s objections. Four years later, I graduated and went to work at CCRCGP at Wolong to support the cause of protecting the Giant Panda. That was 8 years ago. Thinking back on my persistence when faced with the confusion of my family and friends,  I always smile. Maybe, I think, this is God’s plan.

Happiness behind hardship

Day to day care of pandas is dull work and heavy labor. Every day you have to clean the enclosures several times, make panda bread, prepare fresh bamboo, bamboo shoots and apples, as well as monitor pandas’ living status on a 24 hour basis in order to be fully prepared for breeding season.

Maybe to an outsider’s eye caring for pandas is wrapped in a veil of mystery and excitement. The job seems admirable, simple in nature, with no complex office politics or interpersonal communications, easy and light, and you can be with the lovely pandas from morning to night. However, when you are really doing it, you taste the hardship and dullness of the job behind people’s admiration. Despite this, watching pandas growing up to be healthy and strong has given me great joy. When I see them happily eating tasty food, playing as they do a lazy roll, I feel that everything I do is meaningful. Gradually, I’ve come to see the pandas as my own children.

Meeting with a broken heart

Pandas can only be found in small parts of the wild mountains and forests in the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu regions of China. Currently there are fewer than 2000 pandas in the world. Due to low reproduction rates and habitat loss, the number has been declining. I used to believe pandas had difficulty adapting to a changing environment, however, meeting  a particular panda in 2005 completely changed my view.

On Aug. 1, 2005, a severely injured panda was found in Ping Wu County.  Both of his hind legs severely fractured. CCRCGP sent vets out to rescue the panda immediately after it was noticed. Since the injury was so severe, it was impossible to save the panda’s legs. Reluctantly, amputation had to be done immediately. On Aug. 3 at 9pm, the panda was transferred to our center. All staff members were shocked at the sight of him. From examining his teeth, his age was estimated at about 20 years old. By visual observation, his weight was about 60kgs, which was 40-60kgs lighter than a normal panda. In other words, his weight was only a little more than half of that of a captive panda. His two hind legs were amputated at the knees and he could not walk.


His spirit was shattered, his fur  was dark with no shine, he was very bony.  The mood in the room was frozen. Everyone’s heart was aching and we could not hold back the tears. For over 20 years, since the center was established, no one (including many experienced keepers) had ever seen or even heard of a panda with two fractured legs, so thin and so small, who had survived in the wild. At that moment, although no one want to believe it, we had to face a grim fact: this panda would likely pass away soon because of his weakness.

Beyond the limits of belief and desire

At that moment, Mr. Zhang, Director of the center, wiped his tears and spoke emotionally to encourage everyone. He said: “Now that he has come here, this will be his home! We will make every effort and will never give up. We will help him survive and live happily! I have confidence in our team. Even if there is only 1% of hope, we will make 100% effort to save Qiang Qiang!” Everyone was moved and said firmly: “We will do it. We will help him live well…”.

Although he was very weak and near death, there was still some spark from his eyes. He showed strength, persistence, a desire for living and not giving up. For the first time, I felt a deeper respect for life and renewed tie to the giant panda.

On that very day, the panda got its own name: Qiang Qiang. It did not only represent his persistence, it also represented everyone’s best wishes and confidence that we would help him survive.