At about 8:00 in the morning of February 24, 2013, residents of Shanfeng Village, Lewu Town near the Sichuan Hei-zhugou National Nature Reserve awoke to prepare for the Lantern Festival celebrations later that day. Little did they know that a special guest would join in the festivities. The Lantern Festival is the culminating event to a week-long celebration of the Lunar New Year, perhaps the most important holiday in China. On that particular morning, an adult giant panda appeared out of the mountains where it was observed frolicking between two trees in a bamboo forest on the outskirts. After several hours, it settled down for a long nap at around 10:00am.
Upon hearing the news of a wild panda sighting, officials from the Nature Reserve, the Lewu Township Government, and the Chuannan Forestry Bureau quickly organized over 30 staff members to protect the panda and to manage the growing crowd of spectators. Working together, everyone maintained good order and the crowds kept conversations quiet and to a minimum. Traffic controls were put into place and motorists were asked to refrain from sounding their horns. After two hours, the panda woke briefly and relocated to a new napping spot in a neighboring tree about 100 meters away where it promptly went back to sleep. A veterinarian from the county animal husbandry bureau examined the panda from a distance and pronounced it healthy.
When the now-refreshed giant panda awoke at 3:16pm, it stretched and looked around shyly at the throng of excited onlookers standing by, cameras at the ready. As it stood up to leave, the audience respectfully took pictures and videos as it leisurely departed back to its mountain home. Together with his human counterparts, the giant panda of Heizhugou celebrated Lantern Festival with his special appearance.
Three years ago on February 5 2010, staff from the Heizhugou National Nature Reserve assisted and released an injured giant panda in the same area of this most recent panda sighting. Was it the same panda, returning to visit its human helpers? We may never know for certain, but the extraordinary celebration of Lantern Festival 2013 by human and beast will be remembered for years to come.