Giant Panda Xue Xue Begins Her Life in the Wild

Giant panda Xue Xue, who was born on  August 15, 2012, was released into the wild at the Liziping Natural Reserve in Shimian, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Tusday Oct. 14, 2014. She became the fourth giant panda to be bred in captivity and released into the wild in China. Like Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang before her (the two pandas released under the current reintroduction protocol), Xue Xue spent two years' training in habitat selection, foraging, and avoiding natural enemies.  Under her mothers guidance, and without human intervention, Xue Xue learned to search for food and water, nest, and avoid predators.  Young pandas in the program are rigorously monitored (via live cameras) to ensure that they are "passing" all of the target requirements. In the past, caretakers wore special panda suits smeared with panda urine and feces when contact was necessary.  Closer to release date, however, to make her wary of poachers, they stopped wearing the suits when giving her injections, transporting her long distances, or other unpleasant activities. It is only those pandas that "pass" all of the testing parameters that are deemed fit for reintroduction.  In Xue Xue's case, not only did she meet and exceed all testing parameters, but she had also fully separated from her mother (which generally happens around the age of 2), showing that she was comfortably independent.  Xue Xue and her mother, Si Xue,  had no contact with each other for several months before she was transferred to Liziping. Both before and after transport, Xue Xue was given full physical examinations to ensure that she was as physically ready for reintroduction as she was behaviorally.  She was placed in a holding area prior to her release for final observation.   On the day of her release, Xue Xue showed some reluctance to leave her transport container initially, a behavior which showed that she has learned to be observant and cautious of changes in her environment.  Her mother taught her well.   Xue Xue's release marks another milestone for the reintroduction program.  As Zhang Hemin, director of the China Conservation and Research Center for [...]

Another Tao Tao Update

We have just been sent images of Tao Tao from the wild.  Tao Tao was released into the wild on October 11, 2012.  Those tracking his movements and checking in on him report that he is fully acclimated to his environment and continues to do exceptionally well. We've also been told that Zhang Xiang, released last year, is also doing well and adapting nicely to her new wild life.  CCRCGP has plans to reintroduce another two pandas to the wild this fall. You can learn more about the Reintroduction Program HERE

The Bifengxia Panda Base – An Introduction

China, November 2013 - Travel Notes Day three of our travels took us to our ultimate destination, The Bifengxia Panda Center in Ya'an, Sichuan Province, China.  In many ways, walking through the gate at BFX was a bit like "coming home" after years of reading and writing about it, seeing photographs, and hearing first hand accounts from others who had made the trip.  The reality of the Panda Base, however, was far grander and more awe inspiring than all of the images in our heads. But First, A Bit of History Construction of the BFX Panda Center began in October of 2002, when it became obvious that a second center, in addition to the existing center at Wolong, was required to manage the growing captive panda population and ensure their continued health and welfare. Before construction, the Bifengxia base was maiden forest with no power, no roads, and very little access.  Dr. Tang Chunxiang, Assistant Director and Chief Veterinarian, described the base as a “blank paper, waiting for great events to occur.” Since Wolong was primarily a breeding center, the BFX center was originally constructed to house mostly sub-adults (not yet in the breeding program) and senior pandas (too old for breeding).   With foresight, however, a small breeding area was constructed in addition to a hospital.  The center opened in 2004. Before the earthquake of 2008, Bifengxia was still a small Panda Center with only 46 staff members. After the earthquake, everything changed. Following the devastating quake, fourty Giant Pandas were evacuated to the Bifengxia base from Wolong. Workers began construction of temporary pens, a new breeding center, and a kindergarten for young Giant Pandas.  Currently there are 58 total enclosures at Bifengxia and the staff has grown to about 144 members. The Quick Tour The drive from Ya'an city to the Bifengxia base is not for the faint of heart.  The 30-minute trek from the city takes you along a tightly winding road into the mountainous area known as the Bifengxia Gorge. As you ascend the mountain, it is obvious why this area was chosen for the Panda Center.  [...]

Tao Tao Update – One Year after Release

Originally published 2013-11-01  chinadaily.com.cn Web Editor: Wang YuXia Panda adapts to life on the wild side Tao Tao, the first panda to get wildlife training, was released a year ago in Ya’an, Sichuan province. He is spotted on Oct 30, 2013, and a physical examination confirmed it was Taotao and it has adjusted well to the wild during the past year. It was released again after the check-ups. Born in Wolong nature reserve in 2010, Taotao has received wildlife training in three stages, with each stage expanding his territory. After that, it was moved to Ya’an for a rejuvenation program at Liziping nature reserve. [Photo/Xinhua]

Zhang Xiang, twin sister of Su Shan, to be Released to the Wild

It's official, Giant Panda Zhang Xiang, twin sister of Su Shan (named after director Suzanne Braden), will be released into the wild on November 6, 2013.  The two-year-old panda will be released into the Liziping Nature Reserve in Sichuan where male panda Tao Tao was released in October 2012. Zhang xiang at 6 months with mother Zhang Ka Zhang Xiang was the first born twin to parents Zhang Ka (a wild-born female) and Bai Yang (also wild-born).   She spent 26 months of "wild" training in the Hetaoping reintroduction program following a similar training model as that used with Tao Tao.  She learned survival skills from her mother in a semi-wild environment to maximize the likelihood of reintroduction success.  She has effectively learned to identify and avoid predators,  has mastered the skill of feeding herself, and can independently find water and shelter.  Her training results indicate that she has all of the skills necessary for reintroduction and researchers feel she should adapt quickly to a wild environment. At One Year Old Read the Full Article

Why Pandas don’t “Deserve to Die” – part 3 of 3

To conclude our series based on the article “How To Argue With Someone Who Says ‘Pandas Deserve To Die”By Dan Nosowitz we present Dan’s final rebuttals: Statement: “We’re spending so much money on these dumb bears! We should be spending it elsewhere!” Response: There’s an inherent flaw with that argument, in that taking money away from something you don’t think is worthwhile hardly ever means that money flows into something you do think is worthwhile. Cutting the budget for the Department of Defense doesn’t mean the Department of Education will suddenly have $500 billion to actually educate America’s youth. Cutting the budget for NASA doesn’t mean we’ll have more money to bomb Syria.

Why Pandas Don’t “Deserve to Die” – Part 1 of 3

We've all heard it - the idea that Pandas are a "worthless" species, that they should be allowed to die out.  It is the hot topic of conservation blogs and news articles and can lead to impassioned rebuttals from Panda advocates around the world.  One such rebuttal, written by Dan Nasowitz, PopSci.com's Associate Editor, caught our attention given both it's depth and scientific foundation.   Many argue that we are only interested in saving the Giant Panda because it is a "cute" species - an attitude that Nasowitz finds both totally flawed and genuinely harmful to the conservation movement as a whole.  As he says, "the conservation movement directly affects all of us; it affects the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we eat, the survival of the planet. It is not frivolous, and it is not helpful to attack it with "edgy" arguments".  Rather than try to restate Mr. Nasowitz's arguments, we are presenting his content here, in a 3 part series. Statement: "Pandas have a really ridiculous diet. Can you believe they only eat non-nutritious bamboo?" Response: So, this statement belies a fundamental, willful misunderstanding of ecosystems and evolution. You don't get to decide what's an appropriate diet; whether the animal can survive in its ecosystem (assuming, of course, that we don't burn it down and build houses there) is the only actual test. Ecosystems are built up of specific niches, wherein each niche can support a species. For example! Many insects lay eggs deep in trees, where they hatch into larvae. There is lots of larvae in trees, and larvae is a very good source of protein, so that creates a niche: an animal can evolve to take advantage of that abundant food source, and thus survive. In North America and Europe, the animal that has figured out how to get those delicious larvae out of the trees is the woodpecker. But in Madagascar, isolated from Africa for millions of years, there are no woodpeckers--but there are still larvae. That food source hasn't gone unexploited! The aye-aye, a bizarre, scary-looking lemur, has [...]

Not Always Black and White – the BROWN panda

Meet Qizai, a resident of the Shaanxi Rare Wild Animals Rescuing and Raising Research Center in Shanxii Province in Northwest China, and the only brown and white Panda living in captivity.  Qizai was discovered in November of 2009 at the age of two months  in the company of his mother, a black & white Panda. While we are all familiar with our beloved black and white bears, the brown and white panda is rare indeed.  Qizai is only the seventh brown and white panda spotted in the Qinling region over the past 25 years. Qizai belongs to a subspecies established as Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis in 2005.  The subspecies are more commonly referred to as Qinling pandas in reference to the isolated Qinling Mountains where they have been spotted since the mid-1980s.  Qinling pandas differ from the Giant Panda not only in color (although most have the traditional black and white coloring), but also in their slightly smaller skulls and proportionately larger molar teeth. Scientists are still uncertain as to why Qinling Pandas display such unique coloring. In a recent Nature.com publication, scientists discussed the two most common theories of the origin of the brown panda – genetic factors due to inbreeding and environmental influences. According to the article, the first recorded brown-and-white panda — a female called Dan-Dan — was discovered in 1985. She was taken into captivity, mated with a black-and-white animal and gave birth to a normal black-and-white male. A few years later, another brown-and-white panda was seen in the wild, together with its black-and-white mother.  “These anecdotal observations strongly suggest the presence of a recessive gene or genes,” says Tiejun Wang, a spatial ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands, has worked in Foping for two decades. Sheng-guo Fang, a researcher at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, has studied the morphology and genetics of the Qinling pandas and notes that the recessive genetic trait is worthy of investigation, but cautions that there could be other factors at play. Fang and colleagues have found that while most of the […]