WOLONG, Sichuan Province: The plan to save the endangered giant panda by
releasing captive-bred bears back into the wild suffered a major setback with
the death of 5-year-old Xiang Xiang in a remote part of the Wolong Nature
Xiang Xiang was found dead on snow-covered ground on February 19, some 40
days after scientists had last been able to track the panda via a wireless
tracking device it was wearing around its neck, an official from a panda
breeding center in southwestern Sichuan Province said yesterday.
Officials attributed the long delay in releasing news about Xiang Xiang's
death to the need for a full investigation.
"We are all sad about Xiang Xiang, but it doesn't mean the project has
failed," said Zhang Hemin, head of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research
Center in Wolong.
"The lessons we have learned from what happened to Xiang Xiang will help us
adapt and improve the project," said Zhang.
Xiang Xiang was the world's only artificially bred panda living in the wild.
It was released back into its natural habitat at the Wolong Nature Reserve for
Giant Pandas last April.
Nature reserve officials tracked Xiang Xiang by means of a global positioning
device attached to its collar.
An examination of Xiang Xiang's body showed that the panda had suffered rib
fractures and internal damage, said Li Desheng, deputy director of the Wolong
Experts speculated that it might have fallen from a high place after getting
into a fight with the original "residents" for food or territory.
Xiang Xiang had no fighting experience in the wild and was weak compared to
the wild pandas, said Tang Chunxiang, a senior Wolong Center veterinarian.
"We have to give captive-bred pandas better survival training, especially
combat and defense skills," said Tang.
Giant pandas are one of the world's most endangered species. Statistics from
the State Forestry Administration show some 1,590 pandas live in the wild,
mostly in the mountains of Sichuan and there are more than 210 in captivity.
Most giant pandas in captivity have been artificially bred but the experience
dulls their natural instincts, leaving some unwilling to mate. Only 24 percent
of females in captivity give birth, posing a serious threat to efforts to
increase the population.
China started training giant pandas to live in the wild in 2003. The goal is
to release them back their natural habitat to boost the wild population.
Xiang Xiang, which translates as "Auspicious", was selected for training at
the age of 2. After nearly three years of training, he had learned to build a
den, forage for food and mark his territory.
(China Daily 06/01/2007 page5)