The story appears on

Page A12

November 12, 2016

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Animal Planet

Pandas released, protection upgraded

AS the cages opened, Hua Yan and Zhang Meng did not hesitate and ran into the wild. The two pandas disappeared into the mountains within seconds. China released its sixth and seventh pandas at the Liziping Nature Reserve in southwest China’s Sichuan Province weeks ago, in an attempt to diversify the species’ genetic pool.

“Releasing them to the wild is just the beginning. We will continue to monitor them and see whether they can survive in the wild,” said Huang Yan, a panda reintroduction specialist. “What we are most looking forward to is whether they can mate and breed in the wild.”

With a consensus on giant panda protection reached at the recent International Conference on Giant Panda Conservation, global efforts on panda protection were strengthened.

According to Huang, releasing pandas back into the wild is not easy. It is a complicated process involving many twists and even failure.

The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) started its reintroduction program in 2003, releasing its first captive-bred panda Xiang Xiang into the wild in 2006. However, Xiang Xiang died roughly a year later after fighting with wild pandas for food and territory. In 2014, Xue Xue, the fourth captive panda to be released, died of illness a month after being released.

Zhang Hemin, the CCRCGP director, came under criticism for sending pandas into the danger of the wild. But he did not back down. “The purpose of captive breeding is to keep the number of pandas at a stable level; but as a species they belong to the wild,” Zhang said.

Under cooperative programs with 10 countries, including the US, Japan and Belgium, 32 pandas now live in overseas zoos. “Pandas are adorable, and people love them. But they are not pets, and they should go back to the wild. And the process of captive breeding, wild training and releasing is a road that must be travelled,” Zhang said.

“The whole reintroduction program is an experiment. Putting pandas back into the wild is a very complicated process,” said David Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC.

Despite the setbacks, the CCRCGP is continuing its release program. The center released Tao Tao (male) in 2012, Zhang Xiang (female) in 2013, and Hua Jiao (female) in 2015.

“Zhang Xiang has established her own territory, which is an important step to surviving in the wild,” Huang said. “Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang have adapted to the wild, and they are expected to naturally mate and breed in the next two to three years.”

In September, pandas were downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” by International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“But this does not mean downgrading protection efforts,” said Zhang. “We still face difficulties such as habitat fragmentation and isolation, so protection and the reintroduction program is definitely necessary.”

In order to diversify the genetic pool of pandas, the CCRCGP and the Smithsonian Institution have carried out cooperative programs and bred the most diversified panda species in captivity. “Releasing captive pandas back into the wild will bring diversified genes back to the wild,” Zhang said.

Experts have proposed the idea of building corridors connecting fragmented habitats, so that pandas can travel to find partners during mating season. After fieldwork in panda habitats, Melissa Songer, an expert at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, brought her team’s plans to the conference. “We hope our work will help work out a plan to better preserve pandas’ habitat,” Songer said.

A plan to build a national park for giant pandas was proposed in August and has been submitted for approval, according to the Sichuan forestry department.

The giant panda is an “umbrella species,” and the preservation of their habitat can help the survival of many other mammals, birds and amphibians in their region.

“When you are protecting pandas, you are protecting other species as well,” Wildt said.

The CCRCGP is now mapping out an upgraded plan as well as seeking international cooperation. A panda DNA archive is expected to be built to get a better grasp of pandas’ genetic diversity, Zhang said.

Experts and organizations reached a consensus to establish a platform to track cooperative programs and share the latest research and conservation work on panda protection.

“We have much experience in releasing mammals back to the wild, and we will give the center advice on their reintroduction program,” said Robert Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend