Photo taken on Dec. 21, 2016 shows aged giant panda "Ying Ying" at the Dujiangyan Base of China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in southwest China's Sichuan Province. (Photo: Xinhua/Xue Yubin)
Compared with its crowded counterpart in Chengdu, the giant panda base in Dujiangyan, 60 km away, is quiet and secluded. It's the perfect location for the world's only "nursing home" for elderly pandas.
The Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), in southwest China's Sichuan Province, provides care for eight aging pandas, including 31-year-old Pan Pan, the world's oldest male giant panda in captivity.
Giant pandas over the age of 20 are considered old.
Pan Pan, which means "expectation" in Chinese, was born in the wild in Sichuan in 1985. He was later rescued and kept by the CCRCGP. The prolific panda has more than 130 descendants, and nearly a quarter of all captive-bred pandas in the world are related to him.
The Winter Solstice on Wednesday marked the arrival of pandas' favorite season. The bears love the brisk temperatures. But Pan Pan and his pals need special care as they suffer from multiple health afflictions.
"Corn bread, with shreds of fresh bamboo leaves, is specially prepared for the old ones. It's easier for them to take in bamboo this way since they no longer have good teeth," said Tan Chengbin, Pan Pan's keeper.
The "panda grandpa" was diagnosed with cancer in June this year. Apart from this, he also suffers from common old-age conditions, such as cataracts and deteriorating teeth.
Pan Pan now spends most of his day indoors due to health problems, said Tan.
To help the aged pandas better cope with winter, the care team prepares eggs, milk and other nutrients for their meals. They are ready to turn on the heating system in the enclosure if there is a plunge in temperature.
Around 2,000 giant pandas live in the wild, mostly in China's Sichuan and Shaanxi.
The country started releasing captive-bred pandas into the wild in 2006 in an effort to improve the genetic diversity and quality of the species.
China has 67 giant panda nature reserves, but habitat fragmentation is a major reason for the isolation of wild panda groups and a threat to their survival, according to Chen Fengxue, deputy head at the State Forestry Administration. "The giant panda is still endangered," Chen said.
However, the situation could change for Pan Pan's youngest relatives.
A plan to build a national park for giant pandas has been submitted to the central government for approval. Under the plan, existing nature reserves, parks and scenic areas would be integrated into the national park, which could offer a solution for the problem of fragmented habitats.