Scientists from China come to U.S. to learn to build captive population of the giant panda

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 [...]

Why are We Reintroducing Pandas to the Wild?

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 [...]

Tao Tao Update – One Year after Release

Originally published 2013-11-01 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

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 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 [...]