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Backgrounder: All about the giant panda

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-02-22 09:01

BEIJING - The giant panda, one of China's most endangered species, has won affection and attention worldwide with their "cute" appearance.

The giant panda lives mainly in the mountains of China's southwestern province of Sichuan and northwestern provinces Shaanxi and Gansu. They are threatened by habitat loss and a very low birthrate.

Only about 1,600 still exist in the wild, and some 300 live in captivity around the world.

There are 64 panda reserves, covering 60 percent of their natural habitat and 70 percent of wild individuals.

Range and polulation

The Wolong Panda Reserve, 200,000 hectares in Sichuan's Wenchuan county, was founded in 1963 as the "home of the giant panda".

The reserve is on the upper reaches of the Minjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze, China's longest waterway. It is home to at least 2,000 vertebrate species and more than 4,000 plant species, including over 40 kinds of bamboos, the panda's preferred diet.

Wolong was damaged in the May 2008 earthquake and most of its pandas and staff were transferred to another facility in Ya'an, 140 kilometers from provincial capital Chengdu.

Wolong restarted teaching captive bred pandas how to live in the wild, two years after the earthquake. The program began in 2003 and still faces many challenges. Experts are still struggling to understand how captive pandas adapt to a new, wild environment.

Most females enter estrum in April and May, some in the fall, and usually give birth to one baby at a time. Captive bred giant pandas often have very little sexual appetite.

Tackling the pandas' breeding problems has been going on since the 1980s. Attempts have included artificial insemination using frozen semen and even showing the pandas videos of natural mating in the wild.

In 2013, 42 out of 49 panda cubs in China survived, a historical high.

Director of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) Zhang Hemin said great progress had been made in breeding of captive-bred pandas. Last year there were a total of 376 captive-bred giant pandas around the world, up 10.3 percent over the previous year.

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