[Photo taken at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding/NBD]

Most people who have seen live giant pandas have done so at a zoo. Some are lucky enough to visit panda breeding centers in Sichuan province.

But it's extremely rare to see a giant panda in the wild.

Now, Sichuan is planning tourism routes across several major panda habitats in the province, the chief of the provincial tourism development commission told China Daily on the sidelines of the ongoing two sessions.

The routes will give people a better chance of seeing the animal that has become a symbol of China in its natural habitat.

"We are actually planning three routes linking Chengdu with Mianyang, Ya'an and Aba separately," said Fu Yonglin, director of the Tourism Development Commission of Sichuan province.

Tourists who have enough time can also pick a circular route to visit all three places, which would take them at least a week, he said, adding the routes will be of "high quality".

No date was released for the routes to open.

"You won't see a lot of wild pandas along the route, of course, but you will see them at some spots."

There were 1,864 wild and 375 captive giant pandas in China at the end of 2013, according to the fourth national survey of pandas, released in 2015. A total of 1,387 wild giant pandas lived in Sichuan, while others were found in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

Fu said barriers and other protection methods would separate the habitat from visitors, and tourists would have noway to reach the pandas.

"When it comes to the panda, the priority, always, is protection, while the second most important issue is studying them. After that comes reasonable, scientific and rational use of the resources that the panda brings. The order must not be mixed up," he said.

"We can develop all kinds of products using the image of the panda, but for live ones, the most important thing is to have them live a happy and peaceful life."

Currently, the best places to observe the animal are several panda breeding centers in Sichuan.

Another benefit of taking the habitat routes is that "visitors can cross the scenery of the whole Chengdu plain and Northwest Sichuan", Fu said.

"The three habitats have different natural and cultural circumstances. In such trips, people can dip into the environment where pandas are from and gain a deeper understanding of the past of the planet, and its future."

"The panda is the most famous animal from Sichuan. There is nothing else that can represent the province better," said Hou Rong, director of the research center of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

"The plan will certainly promote Sichuan tourism worldwide, seeing as how there are lots of panda fans around the globe."



Editor: Li Jia