May 29 – June 1, 2017: Chengdu Base Prior to this trip the Chengdu staff asked for my input on a study they wanted to conduct to investigate the hormonal factors associated with breeding and parenthood. Via email we developed a plan and arranged for me to validate the hormone analyses while I was in China. Over the course of several days I would design the validation steps and analyze the results at the Chengdu Base, and Jessica worked with the staff in the lab to carry out the wet lab procedures. Although we were only able to complete about 95% of the validation procedures ourselves, we left in place very simple procedures to complete the validation the day after we left. Additionally, Jessica developed protocols for the study tailored to the equipment and supplies of the Chengdu Base laboratory. Because Jessica handled the lab procedures of the study validation described above, I was able to spend one-on-one time with the Chengdu Base endocrinologist about the theory and practices behind validation. Additionally, we were able to review the application of the knowledge throughout the week as results came in from the validation procedures Jessica was carrying out. As a result of this integrated effort the Chengdu Base staff were able to grasp the knowledge and skills involved in validation. Finally, the long-standing contributions I have made to the hormone lab at the Chengdu Base prompted discussions of future studies we could conduct on the giant panda, with relation to reproduction and well-being. Conclusion of the Chengdu Base portion of the trip: The ability to work with staff on theory while Jessica was able to follow through with laboratory work is ideal for intensive training in hormone monitoring techniques. Although I have provided training to the staff in years past, there are many aspects of this methodology that are still evolving and even I have to take time out of my own research to learn new techniques and methodologies. However, I think the training at the Chengdu Base was fruitful and the collaborations set up from this trip will bear fruit [...]
This journal is my summary of providing training and setting up research projects at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) Dujiangyan Base (DJY) and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (Chengdu Base) starting May 22nd and ending June 2nd, 2017. I have long-standing relationships with both facilities/organizations in the capacity of setting up and providing training on hormone monitoring techniques for giant pandas, particularly with regard to breeding. The purpose of the DJY portion of the trip was to provide follow-up training on endocrine monitoring techniques and set up a study that will permit accurate measurement of hormones in the feces of giant pandas in the wild. The purpose of the Chengdu Base portion of the trip was likewise to provide additional training on hormone monitoring techniques, set up a study to assess the hormone changes associated with parenthood and breeding, and discuss future research projects. In my summary below I will provide further detail about the activities for each facility, however before I do so I want to acknowledge that this trip would have not been possible without the generosity of Pandas International (PI). PI has not only supported efforts for the betterment of giant pandas in China, but have also supported my activities in China; to that end I am deeply appreciative. Additionally, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help provided by my assistant on this trip, Dr. Jessica Coote. Dr. Coote worked in my lab when she was a student and was willing to utilize her vacation time to assist me in training and lab work during this trip. Finally, Western University of Health Sciences continues to support my time in these endeavors, for which I am very grateful. May 24 – 26, 2017: DJY Part of the impetus behind this trip came from DJY staff in wanting to conduct hormone monitoring studies of giant pandas in the wild, but in full recognition that there are limitations to such studies. One such limitation is the degradation of hormones in the feces once voided. Not accounting for these post-voidance alterations [...]
The results of the fourth National Panda Census conducted by China's State Forestry Administration have just been released. According to the Administration, as of the end of 2013, the wild panda population has reached 1,864 - an increase of 16.8% over the 2003 census numbers. Wild panda habitat was measured at 2.58 million hectares, an 11.8% increase. China began surveying its giant panda populations in the 1970s. The latest census began in 2011 and took a painstaking three years to complete. The survey showed that nearly three quarters of the wild pandas live in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The remaining pandas were found in the neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. The increase in the population can be attributed largely to conservation efforts put in place by the Chinese government to protect the bear and its habitat. The administration said China has set up 27 new preservation areas for giant pandas, contributing to the growth in their numbers. Economic development still remains a threat to the rare animal and its habitat, however. The survey has found 319 hydropower stations and 1,339 kilometers (832 miles) of roads in the giant panda's habitat. In addition to wild pandas, the number of giant pandas in captivity grew by 211, more than double the previous survey figure. Together, wild and captive, there are now just over 2,200 pandas in the world.
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 [...]
David Kersey, Ph.D., began his career in wildlife conservation in 2000 working as an endocrine technician at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). In 2008 he earned his Ph.D. in Environmental Science from George Mason University. For his dissertation, he conducted research at SCBI in collaboration with Chinese colleagues to study the reproductive and adrenal biology of the male and female giant panda. During this time, Dr. Kersey refined pervious ideas of reproductive physiology and worked towards improving breeding and management of the species in captivity. He has authored and coauthored a number of research articles that address different aspects of endocrinology and reproduction in the giant panda. Among his many accomplishments is a refinement of when natural breeding and/or artificial insemination should be done based on urinary hormone levels. Most notably, Dr. Kersey trained Chinese colleagues at some the major breeding facilities in China in the hormone monitoring techniques he helped refine and develop, and set up a hormone lab at the Chengdu Research Base of Panda Breeding, which has since seen an increase in the number of cubs produced due to improved timing of breeding and insemination. Additionally, his expertise is sought in the US and abroad in consultation with giant panda breeding. Currently, Dr. Kersey is an Assistant Professor of Physiology at Western University of Health Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, where he is Course Leader of Veterinary Basic Sciences, and member of the physiology content expert team. Dr. Kersey continues to work with colleagues in the US and China on giant panda reproduction in an effort to improve conservation efforts for the species.
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
One of our first stops on our initial tour of the Bifengxia Panda Base in November was the New Breeding Center. Visiting this area of the base was a distinct highlight since we were able to see the moms with their cubs . I think we can all agree that there is always something very touching about seeing a mom (of any species) caring for her baby. That maternal bond is so special. As we toured the New Breeding Center, we were fortunate to see five moms with cubs (one with TWO cubs, but I'm jumping ahead). What we didn't realize during that first walk through, however, was that what we were seeing was even more special than we first thought! The New Breeding Center is an area of the Panda Base set apart from the other areas with the primary purpose of breeding pandas and rearing cubs. Breeding at BFX is strategically planned to ensure that the gene pool of the giant panda remains diversified and strong. There are a number of pandas at the breeding center currently, five of which are rearing cubs. While Na Na and Ge Ge (above with cub) were happily caring for their cubs (each gave birth to a single cub this year), we would soon find out that something more was happening with the other three moms. Chet's Discovery On our second day at Bifengxia, we met up with Chet Chin, one of PI's adoptors, supporters, and a long time friend. Chet had arrived early for the Hug My Baby event so that she could share some extra time with her adopted panda, Feng Yi, and her 2013 cub (who Chet has also adopted). After spending a good portion of the day photographing Feng Yi and "her" cub, Chet was quite shocked to learn from one of the senior staff that the cub with Feng Yi was, in fact, not hers! Thanks to Chet's diligent follow-up with keepers and staff, we were able to sort through the confusion and get to the root of not only a beautiful story, but also a new [...]
Reprinted from Western University of Health Sciences - WesternU News Pomona, Calif. - 11/04/2013 --Scientists from the China Conservation and Research Centre took a crucial first step to repopulate the giant panda into the wild by recently visiting with a renowned reproductive biologist from Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif. The scientists, Yingmin Zhou and Xiaoyu Huang, come from an organization that manages three main giant panda breeding facilities in Wolong, Dujiangyuan, and Bifengxia. They began their 20-day United States visit with three days of training with WesternU physiologist David Kersey, PhD, who recently was a key contributor in artificially inseminating (AI) Zoo Atlanta's 15-year-old giant panda Lun Lun, who gave birth to twin panda cubs on July 15, 2013. The scientists' goal is to strengthen their technique on fecal hormone analysis to improve captive breeding, by maximizing the breeding potential of the captive giant panda population and reintroducing pandas into the wild. The next step is to build the capacity to develop knowledge, bring it back to China, and apply it to species conservation, Kersey said. "We have been able to grow the captive population, in part, by applying knowledge we generated from basic science research," Kersey said. "They are looking to use the large captive population as a reintroduction reservoir." At their base in China, the scientists work in the endocrine laboratory, and are responsible for timing the AI and the breeding of perhaps dozens of female giant pandas each year. Kersey said the reason feces are analyzed is because they're easy to collect, and they store good hormone data. "The next step is to conduct detailed studies of physiological changes of the species in the wild," Kersey said. "Analysis of feces offers that opportunity." Zhou said her team came to the U.S. to make sure they are doing the analysis properly. The training they are receiving from Kersey and others will help them move beyond just collecting knowledge on captive populations. "The goal is to protect the giant panda," Zhou said. "It's not enough to only populate pandas on reserves. We want to bring the [...]
Annette Yuen, the Pandas International consultant to CCRCGP, attended the 3rd Cross Strait Giant Panda Conservation Education Seminar in Hong Kong on behalf of Pandas International. The seminar was hosted by Ocean Park Hong Kong. Many experts from China, Taiwan, and Macao attended.
Zhang Xiang has just begun her life as a wild panda. Her journey into the wild marks the second release of a captive born panda from the new reintroduction program developed at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP). The first to be released, Tao Tao, was recently examined in the wild and is adapting well one year after his release. Pandas cubs are being raised for possible reintroduction at both Leopard Mountain, Bifengxia and at Hetaoping, Old Wolong. The cubs are put through a rigorous “training program” for two years after which a team of scientists determines which panda cubs are the best candidates for release. The cubs and the moms are monitored via closed circuit cameras during their time in the program. This gives the researchers working in the program valuable data while keeping physical contact with the bears to a minimum. The concept of the revised reintroduction project is to substantially reduce human contact, leaving the cubs with their mothers for a full two years to encourage natural behavior such as finding their own food, water and shelter. Another important aspect of training for pandas returning to the wild is learning about other creatures they will share their habitat with. Professor Zhang Hemin, director of the CCRCGP, put forth the concept of introducing other animals into the final training enclosure. When two black bear cubs were in need of rescue, he agreed to take them for this project. The cubs are two years and 8 months old, weighing 40 kg, and will be used to train the panda cubs. The back bears will join Red Pandas in the enclosure area. Recently, a wild boar was introduced into the final enclosure. At a recent conference in Hong Kong, Anette Yuen watched a short video of the boar running around inside the training field. Zhang Xiang knew from the smell that this creature was “not her kind” and ran to Zhang Ka for help. Zhang Xiang then climbed up a tree real fast. This is definately the reaction we wanted her to have. Our [...]