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Call of the wild: Giant panda released into nature

10-12-2012 10:25 BJT

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A 2-year-old giant panda has been released into Liziping Nature Reserve in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. Raising him since he was a baby, the training staff at the China Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center hope Tao-Tao will be the first to survive in nature through their program.

Thursday was an important day for Tao Tao, as the 2-year-old entered a totally new world of natural habitats. Release from full time supervision means finding his own food and having to tell friend, from predator.

Taotao, the first giant panda born in captivity in a wild training center in Wolong,
Sichuan, has successfully completed three training phases.

Taotao stayed at the Hetaoping Wildness Training Base for several months before being released. At the training base, Tao Tao finished his wilderness survival training and adapted well throughout the process.

The panda underwent three stages of training before he was introduced into the wild. Under the help of his mother and the training staff, he learned various survival skills such as tree climbing, food seeking and escaping from dangerous animals by distinguishing their growls, or sniffing out their droppings.

He also developed navigation abilities and learned how to cope with natural disasters. His pace of learning is much faster than captive pandas. Experts say the trainings are aimed to help the pandas survive and reproduce in the wild. Releasing captive pandas into the wild can limit the risk of inbreeding.

Taotao, the first giant panda born in captivity in a wild training center in Wolong,
Sichuan, has successfully completed three training phases.

Zhang Hemin, director of China Giant Panda Conservation & Research Ctr., said, “Releasing Tao Tao is a test to our work. If he can survive in the wild, we’ll go on with the training program. We want to release more captive pandas into the wild to protect their genetic diversity. By doing this, we can finally protect wild pandas.”

In July 2003, Wolong began a program to train captive pandas to live on their own in the wildness. Its first "graduate", Xiang Xiang, was released in April 2006, after undergoing three years of adaptive training. In February 2007, the five-year-old male panda was found dead, bringing an end to the first phase of the reserve’s program.

Researchers believe Xiang Xiang had fallen from a high place after fighting against other members of his species, for territory and food. Researchers are hoping for a story of survival with Tao Tao, as they fear that long lasting inbreeding of captive pandas may have an impact on their health condition.

Hou Rong, reseach fellow at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, said, “Nearly one third of captive pandas are blood related. They either have the same grandpa or the same father. It may be hard for them to find mates. It’s a potential risk that may cause bad consequences in the future. Their offspring may suffer from abnormalities or suffer from an early death.”

Following Xiang Xiang’s death, the Wolong Nature Reserve resumed work on the project, planning to train four pandas within three years and release one or two of them from captivity. Tao Tao is the first. The training staff have been preparing for this day for 26 months. They’ll be standing by, tracking him with GPS, and hoping he will transition smoothly into his intended home.


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