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Giant pandas to leave gilded cages
By Liang Chao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-08 05:44

A programme for releasing giant pandas bred in captivity back into the wild will be initiated soon in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, in an effort to improve the genetic diversity of the species.

Yang Dongsheng, director of Sichuan Forestry Bureau, said that the programme will not only enlarge the number of pandas kept in captivity, but also preserve the endangered species in the wild.

"With the increasing number of pandas bred and kept in captivity, we will be able to set free some of them and form new filiations for their species," Yang said.

Xiang Xiang, a panda bred in Sichuan's Wolong Giant Panda Research Centre, has been on a reintegration programme since 2003, according to Zhang Hemin, an expert with the centre.

"He will be fully set free in the area around the centre in the near future," he disclosed. Zhang was confident that, by 2008, the freed animal will be fully adjusted to life in the wild, and will begin to breed.

If Xiang Xiang adapts well, the centre plans to return several panda couples in the years ahead.

By the end of last year, a total of 160 giant pandas were kept in zoos across the world, with wild pandas living in habitats in China, experts say.

Experts fear that life in captivity may blunt the animal's instincts. Pandas in the wild are inquisitive creatures, with occasional savage tendencies

China's steadily increasing number of giant pandas in captivity has enabled some animals to be returned to the wild, according to Feng Wenhe, a professor from Sichuan University.

A total of 98 pandas are living at the Wolong centre, and by 2008, their population is expected to reach 300. So far, a total of 55 nature reserves have been set up for pandas, along with 10 protective corridors allowing them to move freely among habitats.

(China Daily 12/08/2005 page2)

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