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Giant Panda Research in China | Sichuan Province, China

More photos from this internship can be found on PDXWildlife’s Instagram. Photo credit PDXWildlife.

Portland-based non-profit PDXWildlife offers 12-week giant panda research internships in China. Each term, a small team of interns will join professional researchers from PDXWildlife to carry out specific research projects in Sichuan Province. Gain practical professional experience while learning about Chinese culture and the natural habitat of these amazing animals.

Research topics vary depending on season, but interns are encouraged to undertake their own research projects on the side, with support from PDXWildlife. Interns can expect to spend about 4-5 hours per day focused on research projects in the local office, in the field, or in neighboring cities. Housing and local transportation is included. English language internship.

Duration of Internship:

  • 12 weeks

Internship Start Dates:

Typical internship periods are listed below but dates and locations are subject to change. 2019 programs are expected to commence in May.

All interns may apply to fall internships, which run from approximately September – December. Semester students or those with flexible schedules may also be eligible for summer or winter/spring programs.

  • Winter/Spring internships: January to April or February to May
  • Summer internships: May – August
  • Fall internships: August – October/November or September – December

PDXWildlife is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit based in Portland, Oregon. Operating since September 2011, their research focuses on threatened species, such as the giant panda and allows their team to spend quite a bit of time in China, training interns, conducting innovative studies, and building international relations with fellow conservationists.

PDXWildlife believes that the world is rapidly changing, and not all species can evolve quickly enough to survive. They concentrate on using scientific research and advances to improve the conservation of species, accomplished through innovative and creative research in captive breeding, habitat restoration, and community education.

The main goals of PDXWildlife’s program are:

  1. Improve threatened species captive breeding techniques to increase reproductive success
  2. Monitor environmental contaminants that may be detrimental to species survivorship
  3. Educate individuals and communities to improve species and habitat conservation

Together, with the help of sponsors, donors, collaborators and individuals around the globe, PDXWildlife is able to pursue these objectives through a dedicated team of scientists who conduct and implement research on three different continents. Visit PDXWildlife online or follow them on Facebook to learn more.

The Giant Panda Research project has the potential to improve captive breeding and reintroduction methods currently utilized by both zoological and private breeding facilities of threatened species. The goal is to provide a model system of captive breeding that integrates both genetic and behavioral information to determine optimal mating pairs. It seems clear that conservation breeding programs in zoos and breeding centers have much to gain from a more integrated approach, addressing both the importance of genetic management and natural mating preferences.

PDXWildlife offers exciting and unique internships focused on collecting data for the Giant Panda Research Program. The internships help participants reach a range of academic and professional goals, while helping the core team undertake and manage programs and initiatives. With connections to the San Diego Zoo and the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), the internship provides a well-rounded and practical experience, perfect for building a career in international biological conservation or zoo biology.

Internships are available seasonally throughout the year in Sichuan, China. Interns will work at research facilities in Bifengxia (Ya'an), Gengda, or Dujiangyan. Applicants must be available for the whole internship period, typically 12 weeks.

Interns who have an interest in undertaking their own small research projects, whether for academic purposes or for their own experience, are invited to do so. The internship provides an excellent opportunity to experience the planning and executing of projects in a conservation biology setting. PDXWildlife is happy to accommodate this type of project, and can provide the necessary supervision and guidance both in the planning and execution stages. We also supply a list of potential mini-project titles to help successful candidates choose an appropriate study subject. We can also review other research questions, although acceptance of these would be dependent on identifying an appropriate field supervisor (supplied by PDXWildlife). All interns receive a general orientation and induction course at the start of their visit, after which they are assigned to one of our project staff, though swapping in and out of different projects is also possible.

Typically, interns will spend about 4-5 hours a day focused on research activities either in the local office, around the neighboring cities, or in the field. During the rest of their time, interns are free to explore the area, improve their language skills, coordinate fun activities with other interns and staff, and mingle with visiting volunteers and researchers.

The intern's primary responsibilities will be to conduct research on Giant Panda reintroduction training, captive breeding, stereotypic behavior, maternal care, and endocrinology projects. Some typical tasks include: daily tracking of panda locations to track familiarity, score giant panda behaviors during breeding, maternal care and stereotypic observations. Collect and prepare fecal samples for hormone analysis. Other duties might include cataloging fecal samples, downloading videos weekly, and writing a bi-monthly blog post.

Panda interns are expected to work independently, with only minimal supervision, managing their own time and meeting any assigned deadlines. You will usually be able to take at least one or

two days off each week, depending on current work priorities. On approved days off you can hike, go wildlife watching or take trips to other cities (at your own expense). There are various cultural events you may attend with local friends, such as festivals and national holidays, which can provide a fascinating and very personal insight into local traditions.

Example programs (all PDXWildlife panda projects are listed online):

  • Weaning protocols of captive giant panda mother-cub pairs in Gengda
  • Male-male competition in captive breeding of giant pandas in Bifengxia
  • Selection methods for release and reintroduction of pandas in the wild in Gengda
  • Effective mate preference in captive giant pandas in Ya’an

Academic Background

Ideal applicants will be seniors or graduate students within Conservation Biology, Biology, Natural Sciences, Education, Environmental Education, or related fields of study. Research experience is strongly preferred.


Interns should be passionate and knowledgeable about endangered species and conservation issues.

Experience working with captive animals, animal behavior, wildlife conservation, and laboratories/research is preferred, and should be highlighted in application materials.

Interns should have excellent interpersonal skills and enjoy connecting with others. The ideal applicant will be able to succeed independently and working collaboratively. As interns will work independently on some projects, excellent organizational and time-management skills are critical.

Previous formal research experience, especially within behavioral or ecology, is strongly desired. Interns should have strong written and verbal communication skills and be proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel, and Google Drive.

Language Requirements

Interns must be fluent in English. Knowledge of Mandarin Chinese is preferred but not necessary. Interns are encouraged to learn basic Mandarin to help with integration into the community.

Other Requirements

Interns are encouraged to bring their own laptops for personal use. A shared laptop and tablets are provided for research.

Estimated One-Time Expenses:

  • IE3 Global Program Fee: $3,450
  • Host Site Fees: $2,500
  • International Travel: $1,600
  • Visa Fees: $200
  • Recommended Immunizations: $700

Estimated Monthly Expenses:

  • Housing: Included in the host site fee
  • Food: $200
  • Local Transportation: $75
  • Recreation: $150
  • Personal Expenses: $100

Additional Expense Information:

The host site fee covers accommodation, office access, shared laptop and tablets for research, transportation to/from work sites, and other research-associated costs during the internship.

Shared housing is provided for interns. Accommodation typically includes running water, electricity, internet, and heating (if in winter). Interns are responsible for daily housekeeping, cooking, and shopping.

The Giant Panda Research Program is a new opportunity for IE3 Global interns. For more information about the internship, visit PDXWildlife.


Fall | Winter | Spring | Summer

Application Deadline

Summer: January 25

Fall: April 15

Winter: September 1

Spring: November 15

Basic Requirements

-Relevant coursework or experience in conservation, biology, environmental education, or wildlife science

-Formal behavioral or ecological research experience strongly preferred

-Exceptional research, written and verbal communication skills