Pan­das re­bound from earth­quake

China Daily European Weekly - - Life - By HUANG ZHILING CAO YIN Con­tact the writ­ers at huangzhiling@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Bei­jing res­i­dent Wan Yongqing was pleas­antly sur­prised to see a re­stored panda base on 150 hectares in the Wo­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve in Sichuan prov­ince in late April — at the China Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­ter for the Gi­ant Panda.

As a vol­un­teer, he had vis­ited the cen­ter and seen the dev­as­ta­tion af­ter the mag­ni­tude-8 Wenchuan earth­quake on May 12, 2008.

“It was such a mess that I did not be­lieve it could be re­built,” he says. “But now it’s home to the largest num­ber of cap­tive pan­das in the world, and it re­leases them into the wild to en­large the wild panda pop­u­la­tion.”

Tang Chunx­i­ang, a se­nior re­searcher, re­calls that one panda died in the earth­quake and six were miss­ing.

“One of the pan­das, a 9-year-old mother of three cubs, was found dead. And one of the six miss­ing pan­das was never re­cov­ered,” Tang says.

The pan­das that sur­vived the quake were ter­ri­fied and be­came rest­less, he says. They tried to es­cape when­ever there was any noise. A keeper had to ac­com­pany each panda, ca­ress­ing and talk­ing with it softly.

Two months later, the pan­das were no longer afraid. Most of the pan­das from the cen­ter’s base in Wo­long were trans­ferred to the Bifengxia base in the city of Ya’an, Sichuan, and to zoos in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing Bei­jing.

Af­ter the quake, the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion of­fered fi­nan­cial aid of more than 1.4 bil­lion yuan ($220 mil­lion; 186 mil­lion eu­ros; £163 mil­lion) for the re­con­struc­tion of the cen­ter and sur­round­ing vil­lages.

The money was used by the cen­ter to build a suc­cess­ful new panda base on 150 hectares. Nine­teen cubs were born last year, and more are ex­pected this year, says Li Guo, a base of­fi­cial.

In the wake of the 2008 quake, the cen­ter re­leased eight cap­tive pan­das into the wild. One died, but the oth­ers are far­ing well, ac­cord­ing to ob­ser­va­tions made pos­si­ble by the GPS tags that hang around their necks.

Tao Tao, a male panda, was 2 years old when re­leased in 2012. He has lived in the wild for six years.

The cen­ter made a ma­jor break­through in im­prov­ing the ge­netic di­ver­sity of cap­tive pan­das when the first cub pro­duced by mat­ing a fe­male raised in cap­tiv­ity with a wild male was born in Au­gust.

Cao Cao, the mother, was 16 when re­leased into the wild at the cen­ter’s He­taop­ing base in March last year, in time for the panda mat­ing sea­son, which runs from March to May.

At the cen­ter’s Du­jiangyan base, visi­tors can see keep­ers car­ing for pan­das that, in terms of hu­man age, would be 70 to 80.

“One year for a panda equals about three or four hu­man years,” says Li Desh­eng, a se­nior re­searcher.

Af­ter the quake, the cen­ter chose a site near Mount Qingcheng in Du­jiangyan, Sichuan, to build the world’s largest panda dis­ease pre­ven­tion and con­trol cen­ter. The fa­cil­ity, which was also fi­nanced by the govern­ment of the Hong Kong SAR, over­sees the ac­tiv­i­ties of cap­tive pan­das and pro­vides care for those brought in from the wild.

“The cen­ter also serves as a home at which some 10 el­derly pan­das can spend the rest of their lives,” Li says.

Con­struc­tion of the Du­jiangyan cen­ter started in Septem­ber 2011, and the fa­cil­ity be­gan op­er­a­tions in March 2013.

Be­fore 2008, the China Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­ter for the Gi­ant Panda was home to about 100 pan­das. Now, it has 270 cap­tive pan­das, ac­count­ing for nearly 60 per­cent of the global to­tal. In ad­di­tion, 34 of the cen­ter’s pan­das have been loaned to 15 zoos in 13 coun­tries where they are the sub­jects of sci­en­tific re­search.

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