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The Panda Keeper 
   2015-07-08 11:49:00    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Lu

Photo taken on June 23, 2015 shows 9 years old Tai Shan who was born at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. on July 9, 2005, in Dujiangyan Base of CCRCGP. [Photo CRIENGLISH.com/Liu Ranran]

Photo taken on June 23, 2015 shows Panda's afternoon tea includes steamed corn-bread, carrots, apples and milk. [Photo CRIENGLIGH.com/Liu Ranran]

For average people, pandas are huggable and fluffy endangered creatures living in China. They are completely harmless and always eating bamboo. For panda keepers however, it is a different story. The animal can be grumpy and vulnerable, and sometimes even a bit aggressive.

Liu Yi is an experienced panda keeper at the Dujiangyan base of China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP). She's had her share of good days and bad days taking care of pandas.

Let's follow Sam Duckett to find out more about Liu's story.


Liu Yi, a 42-year-old panda keeper, has been taking care of pandas for 12 years. She is now responsible for Tai Shan, the star panda that was born in the U.S. and returned to China in 2010.

When Tai Shan arrived at the Dujiangyan base of CCRCGP last year, it was not in the best condition to mate. Liu was initially quite worried, because Tai Shan ate little and did not trust her for the first few days.

"Tai Shan had a hard time adjusting to the new environment in Dujiangyan. It ate less than before and was a picky eater. So I had to constantly communicate with it. I said 'Tai Shan, we came here together. Let's get you better!' It walked away, but I did not give up. I just talked to it every day. Gradually, it got familiar with my scent and waited for me when I came to work. Whenever I called for it, it followed me."

Photo taken on June 23, 2015 shows Liu Yi, the keeper of Tai Shan is preparing panda's bread as 'afternoon tea' for Tai Shan in Dujiangyan Base of CCRCGP. [Photo CRIENGLISH.com/Liu Ranran]

Liu says some people think she is crazy talking to the panda, but she does not feel that way.

"We have this special bond between us. No one can understand it. I feel like I know it and it knows me. I actually do not see it as a panda, but a friend and family."

To further prove her point, Liu tells another story.

"One day last year, I gave Tai Shan a lot of bamboo to eat, so much so that it was completely covered by the bamboo. I asked 'Tai Shan, where are you?' It did not move, and I could not see it. I said 'Tai Shan, I am leaving. I have to see you before I go!' Suddenly, it pushed all the bamboo aside and looked at me. I said 'OK, I see you! You can eat now.' And it went back to eating again."

And that's on a good day. According to Liu, Tai Shan can be aggressive and even dangerous on a bad day.

"If it is not in the mood, I would not tease it because it can be dangerous. For example, it was upset the other day because it did not want to eat the bamboo. I said 'Do not be mad, things will get better later.' It just got angry and threw all the bamboo."

Even in a situation like this, Liu knows how to handle it.

"I asked, 'how about I cut some bamboo for you?' It just looked at me. I felt like it was saying 'okay, go ahead.' So I cut some bamboo for it. But I forgot to wear the gloves. So I showed it my hands and said, 'Look at mama's hands, it is all because of you.' Somehow, it got my point, came to me and started eating the bamboo."

Photo taken on June 23, 2015 shows Liu Yi, the keeper of Tai Shan is preparing bamboo as lunch for Tai Shan in Dujiangyan Base of CCRCGP. [Photo CRIENGLISH.com/Liu Ranran]

Liu says taking care of pandas can be a bitter sweet experience. Lin Bing, a female panda that came back from Thailand, was with Liu for quite some time. When it had to move to another base of CCRCGP, only Liu could persuade it.

"Lin Bing refused to get into the cage and leave the base. All my colleagues failed to convince it. I said, 'Lin Bing, we are just changing a nest. It is fine. Do you want to go to a new place with me?' Then it got into the cage. I cried when the door was closed. I did not want to leave it."

Although in her 40s, Liu is not married, because all she can think about is her pandas.

"I really do not have time (to think about marriage), especially during pandas' mating season. I cannot go home for months because I have to keep an eye on my pandas. Although my bosses want me to take some rest, I cannot. I mean, they are my pandas and I cannot leave them there."

Compared with marriage, Liu is more concerned about the health condition of Tai Shan.

"It is getting hot here. Tai Shan cannot stand the heat. It will lose appetite and that could be dangerous."

However, Liu believes she can handle the heat and take good care of Tai Shan.

"We can pull through because when it nods to me or looks at me, no more words are needed."

With Liu's dedication, one thing is certain - Tai Shan and its fellow pandas at the Dujiangyan base are in good hands and will always have a family.


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