Call of the wild

Two fe­male cap­tive gi­ant pan­das are set to be set free in re­serve

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By HUANG ZHILING in Du­jiangyan, Sichuan huangzhiling@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Two fe­male cap­tive panda cubs, aged 2 and 3, who have been trained to sur­vive in the wild, will be re­leased into the Lizip­ing Na­ture Re­serve in Shimian county, Sichuan prov­ince, on Thurs­day.

The re­lease of the panda cubs was con­firmed by Zhang Hemin, chief of the China Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­ter for the Gi­ant Panda, dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Gi­ant Panda Con­ser­va­tion.

Spon­sored by Zhang’s re­search cen­ter and the State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the two-day event, which be­gan on Wed­nes­day, drew panda breed­ers and re­searchers from across the globe.

It is the sixth time Zhang’s cen­ter has re­leased cap­tive pan­das into the wild, but it is the first time two pan­das will be re­leased to­gether.

The breed­ing of cap­tive pan­das is aimed at study­ing the en­dan­gered species be­fore re­leas­ing them into the wild to in­crease the wild panda pop­u­la­tion, Zhang said.

It used to be dif­fi­cult for cap­tive pan­das to be­come aroused and mate, and for their cubs to sur­vive. With re­searchers at the cen­ter hav­ing found ways to re­solve such is­sues, it has be­come home to 234 cap­tive pan­das, ac­count­ing for nearly 60 per­cent of the world’s to­tal cap­tive panda pop­u­la­tion.

The cen­ter was founded in 1980 in line with an agree­ment be­tween the World Wide Fund for Na­ture and the Chi­nese govern­ment to breed cap­tive pan­das.

China’s fourth panda cen­sus, the re­sults of which were re­leased last year, showed that there were 375 cap­tive pan­das world­wide as of the end of 2013.

There are now 422 cap­tive pan­das world­wide, ac­cord­ing to Chen Fengxue, deputy di­rec­tor of the State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The rise in the num­ber of cap­tive pan­das has contributed to in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in cap­tive panda breed­ing, with 56 cap­tive pan­das from China hav­ing been loaned to 18 zoos in 13 coun­tries.

Pan­das live in six moun­tain ranges cov­er­ing about 23,000 square kilo­me­ters within the prov­inces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu, but with most val­leys in­hab­ited by hu­mans, their ac­tual habi­tat is about 20 per­cent of that area, said Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing.

ZHANG LEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

A staff worker runs to the res­cue of a panda cub fall­ing off a plat­form at the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing in Septem­ber. Twenty-three cubs born this year met the pub­lic.

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