Last week marked a very emotional anniversary for US-based Tai Shan fans who bid a teary farewell to the beloved panda on February 4, 2010 when he left his home at the National Zoo in D.C. for China. Like his parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, Tai Shan is the property of China. Per the “lease” agreement, the Chinese government can require that all US born pandas be sent to China any time after their 2nd birthdays. Tai Shan was given a “passport” by Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong for an extended stay at the National Zoo beyond his 2nd birthday through 2009 and although the zoo asked that Tai Shan be allowed to stay in Washington for another year, it was announced on December 4, 2009 that he would be moved to China early in the new year. He traveled to his new home at the Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya’an Sichuan on the same flight as Mei Lan from Zoo Atlanta.
Although it was difficult for Tai Shan fans to say goodbye, the process of returning pandas to China is intricately tied to conservation efforts for this endangered species. It is essential that new DNA be continually introduced into captive breeding programs to ensure the diversity of the gene pool. If the captive breeding population is too small, inbreeding will likely occur due to the reduced gene pool which can often lead to immunity issues and genetic abnormalities. The Giant Panda breeding programs have seen increased successes in recent years and keeping strong genetic diversity within the captive population is essential for continued success.
To bring an uplifting note to an anniversary that many still experience with sadness – Pandas International received notification this week from Bifengxia that Tai Shan has been moved to “Lovers Lane” in preparation for the breeding season. This will be his first season to participate, so we all have our fingers crossed.