Cap­tive fe­male panda takes walk on the wild side to find her mate

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By HUANG ZHILING in Chengdu huangzhiling@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

The first panda cub pro­duced by mat­ing a fe­male raised in cap­tiv­ity with a wild male was born in Sichuan prov­ince in the early hours of Mon­day.

The cub weighed 216 grams, much heav­ier than the av­er­age 150 grams for a new­born, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Hemin, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the China Con­ser­va­tion and Research Cen­ter for the Gi­ant Panda at the Wo­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve.

Cao Cao, the mother, is 16 years old (equiv­a­lent to 48 in hu­man years) and con­sid­ered old for giv­ing birth, he said.

She had been raised in cap­tiv­ity and was re­leased into the wild at the cen­ter’s He­taop­ing base on March 1 in time for the panda mat­ing sea­son, which runs from March to May.

In March, sev­eral male pan­das were seen fight­ing for the right to mate with her, and re­searchers at the cen­ter be­gan check­ing data ev­ery five days sent by the GPS tag on her neck — which was fit­ted with a record­ing de­vice.

When they checked the record­ing on March 27, they heard her mak­ing noises sim­i­lar to those made by fe­males while mat­ing. The mat­ing, which might have taken place on March 23, lasted 1 minute and 30 sec­onds, Zhang said.

Cao Cao was born in the wild but was res­cued and taken to the cen­ter at age 2 after she was found in poor health in­side the re­serve. Be­fore giv­ing birth on Mon­day, she had al­ready given birth to six cubs.

Two of the six are well­known to pan­daphiles — male Tao Tao and fe­male Zhang Xiang. Both have been re­leased into the wild in the Lizip­ing Na­ture Re­serve in Sichuan.

Tao Tao was 2 years old when re­leased into the wild in 2012, and Zhang Xiang was the same age when re­leased in 2013.

With the goal of en­larg­ing the wild panda pop­u­la­tion, the cen­ter has re­leased seven cap­tive pan­das in Lizip­ing since 2006. Five are far­ing well, in­clud­ing Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang.

The cen­ter used to cap­ture wild pan­das for research and re­pro­duc­tion pur­poses, but since the early 1990s, the gov­ern­ment has banned cap­tur­ing wild pan­das. As a re­sult, cap­tive pan­das have had to mate with their cap­tive peers. As the num­ber of cap­tive pan­das is lim­ited, this might re­sult in in­breed­ing and is not good for bio­di­ver­sity, ex­perts say.

The cen­ter for­mu­lated a plan last year un­der which cap­tive pan­das could mate with wild ones, and Cao Cao was the first cap­tive panda cho­sen. The ob­jec­tive is to im­prove the gene pool of cap­tive pan­das.

LI CHUANYOU / FOR CHINA DAILY

A new­born panda cub is ex­am­ined in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince, on Mon­day. The mother, Cao Cao, who was raised in cap­tiv­ity, mated with a wild male. It is the first time such a union has pro­duced off­spring.

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