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Wolong: After disaster, wild pandas show their mettle

Updated: 2013-05-09 14:31
(China Daily)

Wolong: After disaster, wild pandas show their mettle

Wu Daifu has worked with pandas since he was 21, but he says the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake transformed his relationship with the animals — personally and professionally.

The 36-year-old had worked as a keeper — feeding bears and cleaning cages — until Wolong National Nature Reserve's post-disaster reshuffle saw him appointed chief of the department responsible for introducing captive pandas into the wild.

"We've since discovered many things," Wu says. "We used to believe pandas would get sick without human intervention. But they're stronger without it. It actually does more harm than good. That's why wild pandas are more resilient."

He cites weaning cubs too early as an example of interference's harm.

"They need more nutrients from their mothers," he says. "We've learned we should let them nurse until they're 2-and a-half years old, rather than 6 months like we used to. This makes a difference, especially when they're released."

Wu's department has made other discoveries about human interaction, since most of his research focuses on disparities between captive and wild pandas. He says he was selected for the job chiefly because he had much hands-on experience with the species.

He still leads the feeding and cleaning but now spends much of his day researching behavior at the base in Sichuan province.

The reserve uses a network of 177 cameras over 2,400 square kilometers of "semi-wild" forest. The system was installed after the quake.

Wu's team is focusing on two mothers raising cubs in the semi-wild area. They are prime candidates for release, authorities believe.

He says he and his colleagues devote most of their time to their work. They live in a small room at the base. Most of their families reside in nearby Dujiangyan city, but they can see them only about once a month.

But Wu says he doesn't regret his sacrifices. "Pandas mean a lot to me," he explains. "My job is meaningful and challenging.

"People around the world love pandas. So do I," he adds. "If I can contribute to their conservation, I've done something meaningful."

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