Tao Tao, the 2-year-old male panda released into the Liziping Nature Reserve in southwestern China, appears to be adapting well to his new home after 4 months in the wild. Researchers and trackers with the reintroduction program say that he is feeding well and appears healthy and vital. Scientists are monitoring the bear with GPS supplied by Pandas International. Like many following Tao Tao’s story, we eagerly await news of how the cub is doing.
Tao Tao was raised in isolation by his mother with little interaction with humans (and even then they were disguised in panda suits). Researchers at the Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong realized that the best time to teach a panda new tricks seems to be during the cub years. Hemin Zhang, director of the CCRCGP and his team, including Jianguo “Jack” Liu of Michigan State University, taught momma pandas how to relay crucial survival skills — foraging and avoiding predators — to their cubs. So far, their approach appears to have been successful as Tao Tao is using his mother-taught skills in the wild.
Mr. Yang Yi and his research team in the Liziping Nature Reserve have been keeping close tabs on Tao Tao. On a recent tracking expidition, the team saw Tao Tao climb a tree (very efficiently we might add) and cautiously observe his human “intruders”. He remained in the tree, alert to their presence, and did not attempt to climb down while they were in the area.
From the data monitored by GBP, staff have found that Tao Tao has primarily been staying in areas with altitudes between 2,500m and 2,700m (approximately 300m to 500m below where other wild pandas are known to live. He seeks shelter from the wind and rain in caves close to a rich bamboo forest. There are large trees nearby that afford him safety and a water source is nearby.
Tao Tao has also changed his diet. In the beginning, he ate primarily bamboo leaves. Now he has begun to eat the actual poles as well. This is an indication that he is growing well.
Tao Tao appears, by all accounts, to be living quite comfortably at this time. His next challenge will be coexisting with other wild pandas when their paths cross.