中文USEUROPEAFRICAASIA

Panda set for a walk on the wild side

By Huang Zhiling in Shimian county, Sichuan ( chinadaily.com.cn ) Updated: 2013-11-06 11:17:33

Panda set for a walk on the wild side

Giant panda Zhang Xiang is moved into isolation before its release into the wild at Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan province, Nov 3, 2013. [Photo/Asianewsphoto]

A 2-year-old female panda from the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan province, will be released into the wild in the Liziping Nature Reserve in Shimian county, Sichuan, after a ceremony which started at 10 am on Wednesday.

Zhang Xiang has undergone survival training in the wild in a special enclosure bigger than 30 football pitches from handlers dressed in panda costumes. Her mother, 13-year-old, Zhang Ka was present during the training.

"On Oct 23, the State Forestry Administration held a meeting for panda experts who agreed that Zhang Xiang, tipping the scales at 40 kg, could be introduced to nature as she has acquired the basic instincts to forage for food, water and find shelter in the wild," said Zhang Hemin, chief of the administrative bureau of Wolong in an exclusive interview with www.chinadaily.com.cn.

Zhang Xiang will be the third panda released into the wild over a period of seven years.

The first, Xiang Xiang, born in August 2001, was released into the wild at Wolong on April 28, 2006 after almost three years of training. On Feb 19, 2007, his body was found in the woods.

He had suffered a broken rib, injuries to his ears and had a large wound on his back. Researchers suspected he had taken refuge in a tree after a fight with wild pandas, but had fallen to his death.

Handlers had to revise their training methods based on lessons learned from Xiang Xiang's fate. Xiang Xiang had initially been raised by humans before receiving survival training in July 2003.

Tao Tao, born in Wolong in 2010, was taken care of by his mother Cao Cao now 16. People approaching them had to be dressed in panda costumes, smeared with panda urine.

Tao Tao was released into the wild in 2012.

"Pandas are very sensitive to smell. Costumes alone are not enough,'' said Wu Daifu, a handler.

Handlers have taken the same training approach for Zhang Xiang, according to Huang Yan, a deputy general engineer at Wolong.

Like Tao Tao's mother Cao Cao, Zhang Xiang's mother Zhang Ka was a wild panda.

"She was saved as a sick panda in Zhangka gully in Baoxing county in Sichuan in February 2002. Hence her name Zhang Ka," said Zhang Hemin.

Although she has since lived in captivity, the fact Zhang Ka was raised by her mother in the wild has made her competent to teach Zhang Xiang how to look for bamboo and water in the wild, climb trees and hide in tree or caverns when other animals approach.

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