Zhang Hao has greater confidence in the country's future. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY
Zhang Hao was shocked by the endless stream of tourists crowding the paths leading to panda dens when he was on duty at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province during the eight-day National Day holiday, which ended on Oct 8.
"The number of tourists was so big, I told myself tourists could see human beings more clearly than pandas," said Zhang, who has worked as a keeper at the base since his graduation from college as a veterinary medicine major in Wuhan, Hubei province, in 2007.
When Zhang started at the base, most tourists were foreigners and only a few were Chinese.
But that changed gradually, especially in the past five years. Chinese tourists now outnumber their foreign counterparts there.
The positive changes have given him greater confidence in the future of the base and the country, Zhang said. He also has great expectations for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which will open on Wednesday in Beijing.
"The change showcases the increasing awareness of wildlife protection among the Chinese people. It also shows that the living standards of the Chinese have improved and they are better off and they can afford to travel from afar," Zhang said.
Zhang, a native of Neijiang, Sichuan province, has taken care of around 80 panda cubs in the past decade.
Some of the cubs have become very famous overseas after being loaned to foreign countries for joint breeding research.
"I cared for Bing Xing and Hua Zuiba, the pair of pandas loaned to Spain," Zhang said. Hua Zuiba, who was born in 2003 and loaned to Spain in 2007, has given birth to four cubs in Spain.
To cater to the ever-increasing number of visitors at the Chengdu base, it has asked its staff members to smile when tourists ask for help and has upgraded its facilities in the past five years.
"Even toilets have sofas and television sets," Zhang said.
He hopes the 19th National Congress will formulate policies conducive to wildlife protection and animal welfare.
"The country doesn't have a unified standard pertaining to animal welfare. Many people keep pet animals but do not make them comfortable. For example, the cages they put pet animals in are not big enough," Zhang said.
"If people treat pet animals well, they will put emphasis on wildlife protection," he said.