Chengdu Launches Largest-scale Reintroduction of Giant Pandas

2013-10-11

Completion of Phase-I Works of "China Panda Valley—Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding, Wildness Training & Releasing of Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” and Settlement Ceremony of First Giant Pandas in Transitional Period of Wildness Training and Releasing were held in Dujiangyan Giant Panda Research Center of Breeding, Wildness Training & Releasing. Six giant pandas were chosen as the first batch of individuals for transitional wildness training and releasing to be reintroduced to the wild where their ancestors lived—Majiagou, Yutang Town, Dujiangyan. This is the largest scale of reintroduction of artificially bred captive giant pandas.


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“We have spent 50 years saving the giant pandas and devoting into the harmonious coexistence of human, giant panda and nature,” Doctor Zhang told us, “we will take another 50 years to reintroduce them into the wild rather than leaving them in enclosure. This is the mission of Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and it is also the historic mission of Chengdu as the hometown of giant pandas”.


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The six giant pandas firstly settled in “Panda Valley” were all in sub-adult period, equaling to the childhood of man, and this period is characterized with fast growth, boldness and strong survival adaptability. Among the pandas, Xing Rong and Xing Ya are twin giant pandas. The Base had spent about one year observing strictly the pedigree family, health, genetic background and sex ratio, and finally organized this “vanguard team” after selection from 108 giant pandas.

The people having been present at the ceremony include: Du Yongsheng, Deputy Chief Commander of Office of State Forest Fire Prevention Command Post; Jia Jiansheng, Deputy Director-general of Department of Wild Life Conservation of SFA; Zhang Shanning, Deputy Director-general of Giant Panda Conservation Office of SFA; Zheng Kunsheng, President of Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens of Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development; Xiang Chu, Vice President of Forestry Department of Sichuan Province; Xie Ruiwu, Vice Mayor of Chengdu People’s Government; Ai Yuhui, Director of Chengdu Forestry and Gardens Administration; Liu Junlin, Assistant Mayor of Chengdu and Secretary of Dujiangyan Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China; Xu Fuyi, Mayor of Dujiangyan government; the leaders from Science & Technology Department of Sichuan Province, Science & Technology Administration, and Sichuan Tourism Administration, representatives from WWF, TNC, CI, as well as Adventure World Park Zoo in Japan, Sichuan University, China West Normal University, Wolong National Natural Reserve Administration, Longxi-Hongkou National Nature Reserve, Baishuihe National Nature Reserve of Dujiangyan, Tangjiahe National Natural Reserve, Wanglang National Natural Reserve, Mamize Provincial Natural Reserve, and Liziping National Natural Reserve, etc.


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The six settlers in “Panda Valley” are Xing Rong, Xing Ya, Gong Zai, Ying Ying, Zhi Zhi and Qi Qi. Yao Ming, a NBA star, who has committed to wildlife conservation, also arrived in “Panda Valley” to attend the opening ceremony.

The continuous expansion of giant panda population in the Base has increased the density of captive population and demand in infrastructures such as enclosure and also increased the risks of cross transmission of epidemic sources and disease. Meanwhile, the rapid progress of urbanization has also imposed pressure on the development space for giant panda in the Base. In order to ensure the safety of Chengdu giant panda population, mitigate the pressure of urbanization progress on adjoining area, reinforce the reintroduction and releasing progress of captive giant pandas and realize the reintroduction and conservation objective for giant pandas, in 2006, with the great support from relevant department at all levels and as approved by Chengdu People’s Government and based on several exploration and field investigation of experts, "China Panda Valley—Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding, Wildness Training & Releasing of Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” was decided to be established in Dujiangyan. In May of 2010, the reintroduction and releasing center laid a foundation; in December of 2011, the Phase-I works was finished and accepted by experts through on-site inspection, which possessed the transition condition for wild training, reintroduction and releasing basically; according the schedule, the Phase-I works was completed and the first Giant Pandas were settled on January 11, 2012.


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Based on the experience and lessons from reintroduction of other species, the premise of ensuring self-maintenance of captive population, we chose individuals for reintroduction and releasing in a scientific way from age, sex, health status, etc.

1.Age: as the giant at different ages requires for different survival environment, sub-adult giant pandas (2-4 years old) are selected. The cubs and aged pandas are weak in viability and apt to fall ill with relatively high mortality, and are not favored for wildness training; whereas sub-adult ones have just completed the transform of food habit from milk to bamboo, and are of strong adaptability, and are therefore the preferred individuals.
 

2.Health status: the pandas were selected mainly based on the health indicators, such as weight, size, teeth, cardiac rhythm, respiration, temperature, blood routine, blood biochemistry and development of tissues and organs, as well as associated behaviors.


3.Sex: the discrimination of the sex of released individuals may affect the rejuvenation of the target population to various degrees, so the proportion of different sexes is considered for the individuals for wildness training.
 

4.Genetic background: selected as the individuals for wildness training will not affect the health development of captive giant panda population while also considering the genetic conservation of giant pandas for wildness training and reintroduction.

According to the above standard and requirements for wildness training, the following giant pandas are determined as the first batch of pandas to be settled in Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding, Wildness Training & Releasing:

1.Xing Rong, female, born on August 13, 2007, pedigree No. 680. Father: Ko Bi; Mother: Er Yatou; weight: 86kg. She is in good health and growth condition, and free of any epidemic sources and disease (such as free of any parasites). The feeding and daily activities are all in normal condition.


2.Xing Ya, female, born on August 13, 2007, pedigree No. 681. Father: Bing Xing; Mother: Er Yatou; weight: 91kg. She is in good health and growth condition, and has big appetite. She’s not a picky eater, and is fond of many types of bamboos. And she is rather modesty.


3.Gong Zai, male, born on July 26, 2008, pedigree No. 711. Father: Xiao Pingping; Mother: Cheng Gong; weight: 89kg. He is in good health and growth condition, and is rather open and much stronger than the peers. It is the prototype of the film Kong Fu Panda 2, and is really a “Kong Fu Panda”.


4.Ying Ying, male, born on August 23, 2008, pedigree No. 724. Father: Xiao Pingping; Mother: Cheng Ji; weight: 75.1kg. He is in good health and growth condition; he is good at climbing and likes playing or perching in big trees. He’s rather energetic and has good appetite.


5.Zhi Zhi, female, born on August 23, 2009, pedigree No. 763; Mother: Ya Laoda; weight: 58kg. She is in good health condition; he’s active and ambitious, and he likes climbing.


6.Qi Qi, female, born on September 28, 2009, pedigree No. 764; Mother: Da Shuang; weight: 56kg. She got the name “Qi Qi” because her birth weight is only 77g (in pinyin “Qi Qi”). Light as she was, she grows very well, and by her 2 years old, her weight almost equals that of the peers. As she is rather gentle with round head and short proboscis, she is known as the “beauty” in panda circle.

At present, Dujiangyan Giant Panda Research Center of Breeding, Wildness Training & Releasing has made full preparation in terms of enclosure construction, indoor and outdoor infrastructure, environmental enrichment, feed and staffing, so as to lay foundation for the settlement of giant pandas and future transition of wildness training and research for captive giant pandas.

For the wildness training and reintroduction of captive giant panda, the giant pandas must be provided with transitional wildness training to cultivate and improve its viability in the wild. Transitional wildness training must be based on scientific and systematic research and exploration, and is a difficult, heavy and complicated systematic work. As we selected different giant pandas as the individuals for wildness training, the training shall comply with the development rules and living condition of individual, which may require a number of scientific researchers and covers various phases:

Phase one, selection of reintroduction individual and wild training: In order to improve the viability of reintroduced individuals in the wild, this phase includes: (1) selection of individuals; (2) further improvement of adaptability of reintroduced individuals to the environment through wildness training, such as reducing the special abnormal behavior of captive animals; and (3) selection or reintroduction means.


Phase 2, selection and evaluation of reintroduction site: In combination with remote sensing, landscape ecology, molecular biology and behavioral ecology knowledge, the habitat and population status of reintroduction destination are assessed, including genetic, diseases, interspecific relationship, and suitability of habitat; besides, the quantitative environmental protection indexes of outdoor environment that are suitable for the reintroduction of giant panda shall also be taken into consideration: (1) factor that may decrease the wild population; (2) sufficient and well-protected habitat; (3) saturation of giant panda population in the habitat; (4) adverse effect that may be caused by reintroduction to local residents; (5) support from local community and residents to reintroduction; and (6) support and engagement of local government and non-governmental organizations to reintroduction.


Phase 3, in order to improve the viability of domesticated individuals, the wild training research will be carried out in the following six aspects: 1) Research on foraging behaviors, such as processing and treatment of food (metabolism of nutrients and energy); 2) research on discrimination of living resources, such as utilization of den; 3) research on ability to escaping from natural enemies; 4) research on expression of territorial behavior and social behavior, such as marking and discrimination of markers; 5) research on fertility; and 6) research on ability of exercising, direction detection and positioning. The abovementioned foraging behavior and metabolism of energy are supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China this year; and territorial behavior and discrimination mechanism have been applied for Youth Fund of Sichuan Province. Research on artificial dent will be carried out for dent behavior and utilization. In October 2011, persons were sent to Wanglang National Natural Reserve, Tangjiahe National Natural Reserve, etc. for field investigation. In order to understand the ability of movement direction detection and positioning after reintroduction, it is planed that persons will be sent to survey the movement status of “Lu Xin” in Liziping Natural Reserve, and bamboo as the staple food in the center will be planted with cultivation techniques for bamboo, etc.


Phase 4, monitoring after reintroduction: Regarding the trained and reintroduced individuals, the status of them may be observed through putting a GPS neck strap, collecting fresh fecal discharge of giant pandas and obtaining the utilization status of artificial dents. The data collected from GPS neck strap is helpful for understanding the spatial distribution and utilization of giant panda; the collection of fresh fecal discharge is helpful for understanding the utilization of food (mainly bamboo) and analyzing the energy of giant panda; and the analysis on the special distribution of giant panda and other animals with the region of reintroduction through molecular biology is helpful for understanding the intraspecies and interspecific relationship of giant pandas. Meanwhile, relevant emergency plan may be formulated based on the ecological knowledge on giant pandas in the wild. Technical means includes GPS neck strap, 3S, ENFA model, molecular biology, genetics, epidemic sources and disease, etc.

In order to improve the wildness and viability in the wild for giant pandas, the following aspects shall be noticed in particular.


1.Adaptability: the new environment resembles the natural habitat; therefore, the training on adaptability to new environment shall be carried out at first, including: the adaptability to enclosure, outdoor playground, climate, temperature.


2.The time of direct contact with man shall be decreased gradually. No artificial training is required and the exchange and contact between the breeder and giant panda decrease gradually.


3.Concentrated feed and other additive shall be decreased or terminated gradually and will be replaced by bamboos.


4.A simulated wild bamboo ground shall be constructed. The bamboo types in the regional may be refreshed with the changing seasons. And the bamboo may be placed by inserting into the ground (i.e. simulating the growing mode of wild bamboo). Artificial intervene shall be minimized in this stage, and the period of indoor activity shall be lessen, and the giant panda shall mainly exercise on outdoor playground, so as to further improve the viability in the wild.


The giant panda with certain viability in the wild will be put into the transitional area which will further simulate the natural habitat on a larger scale. And the giant panda will be fed on bamboo completely. Compared with wildness training area, the area has no artificial structure basically, and the bamboo will be distributed more extensively. The giant panda may obtain sufficient nutrients through continuous movement and foraging, which will quite resemble the living status of wild panda and will further intensify its viability in the wild.

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