Do you enjoy wide open spaces, fresh air and all the cuddly cuteness you can handle? Then being a panda nanny might just be the job for you.
It was certainly the right choice for 25-year-old Zhang Meng, who works in the panda hall at the Siberia Tiger Park in Northeast China’s Jilin province.
Panda nannies are expected to feed, clean, and look after pandas around-the-clock.
The job pays around 2,000 yuan (US$290) per month, less than an average waiter, and is as physically demanding as being a full-time nurse, but it is “happy and meaningful”, according to Zhang.
“Taking care of pandas requires love, patience and diligence,” he said. “You have to make them comfortable around humans, so paying attention to all the small details is key.”
Such details include cutting apples into bite-sized chunks and removing any body odor, because “panda’s have very sensitive senses of smell and hearing”, Zhang said, adding that they don’t eat food from strangers. “You have to earn their trust, one bite of apple at a time.”
While it might seem like great fun to play with panda cubs all day, Zhang said the day-to-day work can actually be quite challenging.
Every day, he has to prepare and carry dozens of kilograms of bamboo for Jia Jia and Meng Meng, the two pandas at the park he looks after.
He also has to clean their living quarters and feed them their rations of vitamin-infused cornbread, as well as various vegetables and fruits four times a day.
Zhang has been a panda nanny for two years, since Jia Jia and Meng Meng arrived from Sichuan province in 2015. The pandas, who have both reached maturity, will live in the park for three years in total, Zhang said.
“When the pandas first arrived, they were not used to the climate here,” Zhang said.
But with the help of panda breeders from Sichuan, the park spared no efforts in helping the pandas to feel at home.
Inside their enclosure, park staff installed new showers, air conditioners and circulation systems to strictly monitor the temperature and humidity.
As for the exterior, they built slides, ponds and planted trees, as well as providing various types of exercise equipment.
The pandas’ native Sichuan province is usually warm and humid, but to Zhang’s surprise, Jia Jia and Meng Meng eventually grew fond of the dry, cold winters in Jilin.
They enjoy rolling around in the snow, and Zhang sometimes builds snowmen to play with them. “They are like curious babies,” he said.
Zhang majored in wildlife preservation and graduated in 2014, but he never thought his life would revolve so much around pandas and taking care of their every need.
His parents had a lukewarm response to their son’s choice of career, but they respect his decision. “My classmates also supported me, saying it is a very meaningful job and they hope I can keep doing it,” he said.