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Bifengxia to welcome the largest-scale panda migration
( 2003-08-06 14:53) (China.org.cn )

China¡¯s giant panda protection researchers are exploring a new way to alter the destiny of the endangered species -- to return them to nature after giving them relevant training in a simulated wild environment.

The Bifengxia Giant Panda Base was planned and built especially for the giant panda releasing. Construction of the first phase of the base will be completed by the end of August. Sixteen giant panda "pioneers" will be migrated from the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong to the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base in September. They will be given wild training in the base to alter their endangered fate. The program is so far the world¡¯s largest for giant panda migration.

An outline of the new panda home

The soon-to-be-completed new home for giant pandas is located in the ravine of Bifengxia (Green Peak Canyon), at 1,100 to 1,200 meters above sea level. Bifengxia is under the jurisdiction of Ya¡¯an City in southwest China¡¯s Sichuan Province and is 148 km from Chengdu, the provincial capital.

In the dense broadleaf forest with singing birds and murmuring streams stands a big gate with the image of a lovely giant panda carved on it, marking the entrance to the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base. Walking through the gate and along the meandering mountain slope for a while, you see several European-style cabins made of bricks and tiles. These are the pandas' houses, including kindergartens. Lush arbor plants such as camphor trees and oaks add more mystery to the unusual environment. Soon your eyes are brightened by an artificial lake of about 1,000 square meters. But wait, the most amazing is the breeding ground in S shape, which, separated from the outside by ditches, is dotted with water pools and shrubs.

According to Wei Rongping, director of the base, there are over 20 places prepared for panda activities and scientific experiments, such as panda grazing grounds, kindergartens for young pandas, panda hospital and a scientific research institute.

At present, the base has 16 houses for the 16 coming giant pandas, each of whom will have its individual residence. There are also 16 grazing grounds, each covering at least 1,000 square meters, nine times bigger than the central one in Wolong. Several different varieties of bamboo, all favorites of giant panda, have been planted in the base either by the water or on the slopes. The new home for giant pandas will appear like a park with a natural environment for giant panda, bamboo and human beings living in harmony.

The base is built with investments from the State Forestry Administration, according to Wei Rongping. The construction began in October 2002, and the planned acreage totals 400 hectares. The whole project will be completed in three phases. The first phase, to be completed in August 2003, covers 70 hectares of land and costs over 27 million yuan (US$3.26 million). Divided into the east and west zones, the major function of the first phase is to provide facilities for the research on giant panda¡¯s breeding. Each of the 16 pandas in the first batch of migration will be moved into a quarter best suitable for its habits and characteristics.

Upon completion of the whole project, the base will have four functional areas for grazing, offices and living quarters, bamboo base and training in the wilderness respectively. This new base is a branch of the China Giant Panda Research and Conservation Center in Wolong. With a vegetation rate of 80 percent, it will be built into the world¡¯s largest giant panda eco-park.

It is planned that in five to seven years, the base will have 40 giant pandas move in. And, a wilderness-releasing experiment area and an ecological living area will be developed in the near future.

Avoid close consanguinity

It's the first time for China and even for the world to migrate artificially-bred giant pandas in such a large scale. With technological breakthroughs in the breeding of giant pandas, the panda population in Wolong has increased remarkably in recent years. So, it has become an urgent issue to separate them into groups.

Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administrative Bureau under the State Forestry Administration, said that numbers of man-raised and wild giant pandas in Wolong have increased to 67 and 150 respectively. In order to prevent infectious diseases and consanguinity confusion, as well as to decrease the pressure of the Wolong Nature Reserve, experts started this project in 2000 to choose a new home for pandas. After inspecting several places in Sichuan Province, including the Minshan Mountains and Dujiangyan, and giving comprehensive consideration to their geological and climate conditions, they chose Bifengxia in Ya'an of western Sichuan.

Going through screening

Wei Rongping revealed that all of the 16 giant pandas in the base will be raised through an outdoor method so as to encourage them to develop abilities better fitting to natural environment. The base will lead the world in raising panda in a semi-wide way.

The man-raised giant pandas, who have been living a comfortable life prepared for them, have mostly forfeited their natural capacities. Through training of outdoor activities such as tree-climbing and outdoor breeding, the pandas may improve their physique and enhance their ability to survive in the wilderness both psychologically and physically.

With respect to consanguinity, the giant pandas moving to Bifengxia must go through strict screening. According to Wei Rongping, the 16 pandas must be the most adaptable sub-adults of two-five years old, though a certain ratio of adults will also be included.

There are two plans for the panda migration. The first suggests to remove all of them at one time, while the second is for moving them separately in several batches.

Following whatever of the plans, during the adapting period after the migration, detailed notes must be made to record how the animals are affected by the new environment, including the local conditions of earth, geography and climate.

All pandas in the base will dwell in high-class rooms with adequate facilities such as air-conditioner and tap water.

According to sources from the Wolong center, three experts in the field of panda research from Wolong have arrived in Ya¡¯an to get detailed knowledge about the local environment.

In Wolong, staff members are monitoring each giant panda¡¯s physical condition, following the tracks of each and recording their habits and behavior. According to an expert in Wolong, once the 16 giant pandas are selected, they will be put into isolation for a while before traveling to Ya¡¯an by Nissan vehicles.

The giant panda is widely known as a "living fossil." In 1961, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) selected the image of panda as its logo as well as the pattern for its flag. Wild giant panda can only be found at the southern foot of the Qinling Mountains and the northwest brink of Sichuan Basin. With the threat of extinction, there are all together about 1,000 giant pandas in the world at present. In China, giant panda is under first-class state protection.

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