HK Wandering, Blog 2
(Previously: A chilly Hong Kong welcome)
HONG KONG–Rain, 3 degrees centigrade and untimely gusts of wind can make a combination sure to shiver.
We entered Ocean Park Hong Kong with what layers of clothes and jackets we could muster and found ourselves powerless against nature.
In this weather, it became clear the rides here were off limits. Unless we wanted to return with ice on our faces.
Mental note: Best time to visit this particular park would be summer.
Still, we had to walk on. Couldn’t waste our tickets.
The cold also did not stop the hundreds of locals already lined up at the park entrance before opening time.
Many, including us, sought refuge first in the extended gift shop. Looking again for an indoor attraction to begin our tour, we walked to the big enclosed canopy at the Amazing Asian Animals area.
It was one thing to know we would be seeing a live panda up close. It was another to turn the corner from the obligatory souvenir photo booth and see the real thing for the first time.
Seated on a tree trunk amid an enclosure mimicking its home in the mountains, the panda was peacefully munching on a bamboo shoot.
My companions and I gushed, gazed at the mammal and reached for our phones and cameras.
The panda kept on eating, oblivious to the enamored visitors taking selfies with it in the background.
The other panda in the tent was also immersed in its own world. We saw it through a glass wall, alternately lying on its back and touching its toes.
It was difficult to catch this panda for the camera, since it did all that behind a rock at a corner covered by a wall.
Yet we couldn’t take our eyes off both.
If you’re this close to mainland China, you can’t leave without an encounter with its most famous animal residents.
And in Hong Kong, Ocean Park is the only place for that.
The pandas in the enclosure are Le Le and Ying Ying. Beijing gave them as cubs to Ocean Park in 2007 to celebrate the 10th year of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
They’re just 2 of the 4 giant pandas in the park. The other two, An An and Jia Jia, have been here since 1999 and stay at a separate attraction a walk from Le Le and Ying Ying’s Giant Panda Adventure canopy.
Too bad An An and Jia Jia were resting when we dropped by. CCTV monitors outside the glass wall of their own enclosures showed them lying on their backs inside separate walled dwellings.
We also met other animals native to China that called Ocean Park home.
At the canopy keeping Le Le and Ying Ying, we got a glimpse of the red panda, a little mammal which resembled a fox (think Mozilla Firefox) more than a bear.
We hardly saw the faces of the two red pandas there. Leaves obscured one of them as it ate on a tree branch. The other was taking a nap on a perch too far for our eyes.
Unlike the resting An An and Jia Jia, their neighbors the Sichuan snub-nosed golden monkeys were much more, erm, welcoming.
The 4 primates, who were the size of human toddlers, were led by Hu Hu, who glared at us from atop a tree.
Hu Hu was asserting his claim over their enclosure. While the other monkeys were huddled atop a high pile of rocks on the far end, Hu Hu kept baring his fangs at the file of visitors to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sichuan Treasures attraction. He would then jump to and dangle on the hanging ropes near his tree before approaching the visitors across the glass wall.
Being at Ocean Park also meant visiting the sea creatures on exhibit. Beside the panda sanctuary we browsed aquariums of goldfish, a species that was bred in China. There were tanks of sharks in another attraction.
But the most extensive display of natural life was at the Grand Aquarium, a giant egg-like structure beside the park’s dancing fountain. Starting from the top, we went down in a spiral through the aquarium’s tanks of over 5,000 fish until we saw the biggest tank at the bottom.
Ocean Park’s popular sea lion and dolphin show was also closed due to the cold. Instead, we walked what must have been more than a kilometer down a slope and up another through the freezing air and the worsening rain to visit the Marine Conservation Center.
We got there in time to see the trainers feed the dolphins in the pool.
At all the animal-related attractions, conservation of nature and these unique creatures was the recurring theme. The labels, images and graphics showed how reckless hunting, fishing and the unsustainable use of the natural resources have endangered the survival of many.
A lot of the practices panned are ingrained in East Asian culture, such as the use of animals like sharks for delicacies like shark fin soup and for herbal medicine.
Of all the species endemic to the peninsula, the giant panda exemplifies what could be lost if people do not help preserve and protect the environment.
There are now less than 2,000 pandas living in the world. Nearly 90 percent of them are in their natural habitat in China, the rest in zoos all over.
A map of China at the Giant Panda Adventure canopy is telling. It shows how pandas originally roamed through a large chunk of southern China hundreds of years ago. Red blots now mark the areas where the few ones remain today.
For one thing, pandas only eat one type of food, bamboo, and few habitats have large quantities of it.
It’s also difficult to breed pandas since they become fertile only once a year and rarely mate. Females that successfully become pregnant run the chance of absorbing the fetus, still an unexplained phenomenon.
Just in October 2015, Ying Ying miscarried what would have been Hong Kong’s first locally born panda.
The panda’s plight and iconic look has made it the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund since 1961 and of the conservation movement as a whole.
While there are protests to Ocean Park’s housing of animals and use of them for entertainment, the park has been helping breed the endangered species and taking care of its wards.
Exhibitions like the ones we saw could also help increase awareness among people, if not educate them.
For our group, just seeing the pandas made our visit and our day worth it. Who knows when we would get to see another living panda again?
Here’s hoping everyone will pitch in to make sure the next generation could also look forward to a personal encounter with these black-and-white bears and other endangered animals.