Chengdu Giant Panda Steps into New Era of Rehabilitation

The world's largest artificial giant panda breeding population takes its first step in reintroduction to the wild

Dec 21, 2011, 07:23 ET from Chengdu Panda Base

BEIJING, Dec. 21, 2011 /PRNewswire-Asia/ -- The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (hereafter "Chengdu Panda Base") today announced the beginning of a new Giant Panda rehabilitation project. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 50-year plan to return the world's largest artificially-bred population of giant pandas to their natural habitat. The first batch of six giant pandas will be introduced into the transitional Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding and Rehabilitation – Chengdu Panda Valley - on January 11, 2012.

Highlighting the January 11 release ceremony will be the attendance of basketball megastar Yao Ming, who is increasingly being identified with his efforts for global wildlife conservation, and who is actively supporting the efforts of the Chengdu Panda Base as they carry out their Giant Panda conservation efforts.

Three decades ago, the Chengdu Giant Panda was faced with serious food shortages and environmental destruction in its natural habitat. Acting decisively, researchers from the Chengdu Panda Base rescued six weak animals from the wilderness and began species protection through new artificial breeding techniques. Today, the breeding population at the Chengdu Panda Base has increased from only 6 pandas to 108, making Chengdu Panda Base the world's largest artificial breeding Panda population.

The ultimate goal of the breeding program is to eventually release the pandas into the wild and genetically reintegrate the growing captive panda population into the wild population. To ensure success, experts in Chengdu will gradually release individuals and strictly track individual development to protect and restore the wild population.

"We have spent 50 years on ex situ conservation, and we are committed to developing a sustainable relationship between humans and the giant panda," said Dr. Zhang Zhihe, Director of the Chengdu Panda Base. "Rather than keeping them in their enclosures, we will spend the next 50 years helping them return to their natural habitat. This is the ultimate goal of the Chengdu Panda Base, and is Chengdu's historic mission as the hometown of the Giant Panda."

The project will culminate on January 11th with the release of the first six giant pandas into the Chengdu Panda Valley, a controlled wilderness area. In order to find the best candidates for the release, experts have spent one year carefully examining and selecting individual pandas based on their age, health, gender ratio and genetic background. Daily behavior, including socialization, living and feeding habits, and even play habits were also considered. Twin brothers Xingrong and Xingya, together with Gongzai, Yingying, Zhizhi and Qiqi, were considered suitable and were chosen to be the pioneers for rehabilitation training. The selected pandas are all adolescents aged between two and four (the equivalent of human teenagers) and were observed to have better adaptation skills.

The Chengdu Panda Valley is located in Dujiangyan, Chengdu, and covers over 2,000 acres. The Chengdu Giant Panda Rehabilitation Project will place the selected pandas in batches at the Center for reacclimatizing/rehabilitation training. Pandas that perform well after several phases of rehabilitation will be released into the primary Giant Panda Nature Reserve.

The Chengdu Panda Valley will serve as a stopping point for the Pandas between a controlled environment and primary wilderness areas, as well as being a leading global center for scientific research for other endangered species. The Chengdu Panda Valley, located in the nearby Longmen mountain region, is a model of effective ecological restoration following its destruction during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

As a part of Chengdu's vision as a world-class Garden City, the Chengdu Giant Panda Rehabilitation Project has received strong support from the Chengdu government. Chengdu has set a panda conservation plan to increase the panda population from 108 to between 120 and 150 over the next 10 years, and will accelerate the development of the Chengdu Panda Base and Dujiangyan Rehabilitation Base.

SOURCE Chengdu Panda Base