With two pandas dying in 2014, many supporters have expressed concerns about the reintroduction program and have questioned whether the pandas were too young to be released. Under the current plan, the pandas are released at the age of two which is when wild pandas naturally wean and leave their mothers to find their own habitat and territory. The pandas within the program are monitored very closely and are not moved into their own enclosures until they have naturally separated from their mothers. The longer pandas remain in captivity after this separation has taken place, the more likely they are to begin to develop a dependence on humans. The age of two, therefore, is the perfect age for them to venture out as they would naturally in the wild.
Both of the pandas that died in 2014 experienced health issues which all pandas are susceptible to. We were very saddened to hear of the passing of Xue Xue shortly after her release. Her behavior, eating habits, feces, and movements were being closely monitored after her release and every indication was that she was adapting as expected to her new environment (based upon similar monitoring data collected from Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang). There were no signs of struggle or trauma.
It is our understanding that Xue Xue likely died as a result of a disease contracted from a bamboo rat. The rodents are everywhere that bamboo grows. Her death was not related to her age.
Reintroduction is very hard with higher mammals and, unfortunately, released pandas will occasionally die. While it is extremely sad, it is part of the process necessary to expand the gene pool of wild pandas to ensure that the species survives.