Chengdu, China is in Sichuan province and is best known for super spicy, fantastic food and pandas. Who doesn’t love pandas? In veterinary school, Dr. Qiu was chosen from his class to be sponsored by the World Wildlife fund to study panda medicine. He spent the first eighteen years of his veterinary career caring for pandas before he opened his own small animal practice.
I feel so privileged to be matched with him. Dr. Qiu introduced me to the director of the Chengdu Zoo and Happy Panda Valley. The latter is an area where carefully chosen pandas are transitioned for release into the wild. I was able to travel to this beautiful setting with the director, Dr.Qiu and many other family members and friends, including two young veterinarians and their beautiful daughter.
Panda medicine is very intense. They are fascinating creatures built to eat. A panda can eat as much as 14 kg (30lbs) of bamboo each day. Hence, when I asked about handling such a large (up to 160 kg /350lbs) wild creature as a veterinarian, Dr. Qiu told me it was easy– you simply give them a piece of bamboo and they happily crunch away. Gastrointestinal transit time is just 3-4 hours– they can defecate up to 40 times a day and in order to do this the colon is very thick and coated with a heavy mucous layer which is cleared out with the heavy fiber diet. In captivity, it is impossible to grow enough bamboo to feed them a natural diet and they must be supplemented with bread, apples, carrots, eggs and other foods. Unfortunately, this lower fiber diet frequently leads to constipation and obstipation with mucous plugs. Anesthesia and surgery is often the only solution. The bright side is the thick colonic wall heals quickly, unlike in cats and dogs. Under anesthesia, nutritional support is provided with Total Parental Nutrition through an intravenous line and must be continued for 24 to 48 hours. This means continuous anesthesia for as long as two days and guess who must attend to the patient for that entire time? You guessed it, the veterinarian!
Birthing sounds equally challenging with the mother pandas often birthing twins. Mother pandas are usually only able to care for one tiny undeveloped pink cub, and given their endangered status, this means the veterinarian must try to raise and care for the second. The good news is that China has had a good amount of success saving cubs and the numbers are growing. During my visit I met a biologist who worked with pandas in the wild. They are finding more surviving twins in pandas that live in the wild, too. This is good news. The challenge now is protecting the mountainous habitat where wild bamboo grows.
After we visited the panda habitat, Dr.Qiu sponsored a banquet with eighteen people attending. The food and wine were both excellent and I felt very welcomed by everyone. I now have many new friends in China!