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Giant Panda Rewild Project

Wild training methodCubs raised by the mother pandas (the wild training method as known to the public)Artificially assisted soft wild training 1Artificially assisted soft wild training 2
The chosen panda cubsThe parents themselves are wild pandas or wild pandas, with precious wild blood.The parents themselves are rescued wild pandas or the second generation of wild pandas, with precious wild blood. Before the age of 1-2, the cubs are no different from the pandas in an ordinary captivity. They are raised by the breeder and the biological mother. They are in contact with the same kind. They are close to humans and other companions from an early age, and there is no wildness in them.They’re the 4th or 5th generations of pandas in captivity. Before the age of 1 to 2, the young cubs are no different from the pandas in an ordinary captivity. They are raised by the breeder and the biological mother. They are exposed to the same kind and are displayed for close contact with the tourists. They are close to human beings and the same kind from an early age. There is no wildness.
Brief description of the methodThe training is divided into three phases – all three phases are carried out in a simulated wild training field (the second and third stage training fields are indistinguishable from a wild field). Cubs grow up independently from their mothers by birth, they do not get into contact with humans and the same kind. They do not eat artificial food. The breeder, the researcher cover the entire face and body with a special panda suit coated with the mother’s stool. The mothers teach the cubs survival skills such as to look for food, look for water source, mark territories, drive invaders, and avoid natural enemies.After the cubs are selected to participate in the wild training, they mainly learn the wild survival skills independently at the training venue, supplemented by the researcher’s teaching. There is no isolation of human beings throughout the training.After the training, the cubs become wild and strong, they would be able to choose their nest, food, mark the site and drive the invaders. The survival skills in the field are greatly improved compared with the ordinary captive pandas.After the cubs are selected to participate in the wild training, they are taught by the researchers in a  simulated wild training field during the day, and they’re taught survival skills such as looking for water sources, avoiding natural enemies, driving the invaders (by putting the natural enemy model into the training ground, and the researchers teach them this skill by driving away the cubs.) When their performance is good, the researcher feed the cubs with honey and reward them with kisses, strokes, etc. In the evening, they return to the artificial beast setting, and are taken care of by the breeder and the mother (it might not be their birth mother). When they’re not in training, the cubs are visited by tourists in the exhibition hall. The whole process of training does not involve isolation of humans and the same kind, and they feed on artificial food. Cubs appear to be more docile than in captivity after the training.
Duration of trainingTwo years to two years and a halfThree yearsThree months to one year
Cubs which have undergone this trainingTao Tao (male), Zhang Xiang (female), Hua Jiao (female), Xin Yuan (Female), Xue Xue (female), Zhang Meng (female), Hua Yan (female)Xiang Xiang (male)He Sheng (male), Qian Qian (female)
Cubs which have successfully returned to the wild after the trainingTao Tao (male), Zhang Xiang (female), Hua Jiao (female), Zhang Meng (female), Hua Yan (female)  
Cubs which have failed to return to the wild after the trainingXin Yuan (Female), Xue Xue (female)Xiang Xiang (male)He Sheng (male), Qian Qian (female)
Success rate of returning to the wild using this method71.40%0%0%
Research institute that has implemented this training methodThe China Research Center For The Protection of Giant Pandas
The China Research Center For The Protection of Giant Pandas
: this method was denied after Xiang Xiang’s failure to return to the wild in 2006, and this method has been abandoned.
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
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Are Pandas No Longer Endangered ?

On Sep 4 U.S. time, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced an improvement in giant panda’s conservation status from EN (Endangered) to VU (Vulnerable).

In response to the announcement, National Forestry claimed that giant pandas are still an endangered species, and that it is too early to announce an improvement of its conservation status.

Why do IUCN and the National Forestry have different perspectives on panda’s protection status? How should we work on their protection work in China?

Different judgments come under different perspectives. Pandas are still endangered.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the largest and longest-existing global environment protection organization. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species starting since 1963 is regarded as the most recognised benchmark of biodiversity.

As regulated, The National Forestry is to investigate in giant pandas’ existing status and resources every 10 years, and monitor the changes between the investigations. According to the 4th Chinese investigation on the giant pandas announced in early 2015, the wild population had increased to 1,864, 16.8% higher than the previous decade; and the wild habitat had grown 271,604 hectares, a 11.8% increase for a decade. Therefore IUCN theoretically judged that the “uncertainties have been eliminated” for giant pandas, and changed their conservation status from EN to VU.

“IUCN judged according to academic researches. We don’t differentiate in knowing about pandas’ existing status. However, we see the issue in different perspectives that lead to different conclusions,” explained Zhang Ling, Vice Head of Giant Panda Protection, National Forestry. “The National Forestry as a government body, not only has deeply investigated into giant pandas’ nation-wide, but also possesses first-hand experience and information in protection management work. Concluding the conservation conditions and survival hardship faced by the giant pandas, we can say they are still an endangered species. We believe this conclusion is more comprehensive.”

Many factors affect pandas’ survival, causing them to stay “vulnerable” even after the improvement of conservation status.

Under the IUCN Red List system, conservation statuses range from Extinct (EX), Extinct in the Wild (EW), Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Near Threatened (NT), Least Concern (LC), Data Deficient (DD) to Not Evaluated (NE). CR, EN, and VU are jointly categorized as “Threatened”.

Obviously, although IUCN has stated the giant panda as Vulnerable, they are still considered threatened. There are many factors that can alter their survival and development.

As stated in the National Forestry’s report, there are 4 major reasons that combine to account for the giant panda’s status as a threatened species. They are isolation of habitats, unsatisfactory inbreeding phenomenon, global climate change, and protection management ability that has to be strengthened.

Among these, the isolation of habitats exerts the largest influence. “According to the 4th investigation on the giant panda, their habitats have grown in terms of area, and have improved quality. But this is only a general comment. During the investigation, we found that the isolation of habitats is very severe.

Among 33 habitats isolated by natural and artificial interferences, 22 are categorized as risky for extinction, with populations lower than 30. 18 of them are even categorized as highly risky, with populations lower than 10,” claimed Zhang.

“In general, artificial interferences have weakened their influences. Those include 319 hydroelectric power plants, 1,339km of roads, 268.7km of high-voltage power cables, 984 static human settlements of populations greater than 50, 479 mines, and 25 tourist attractions.

Despite the general decrease, certain areas see increases. Other interferences like grazing, transportation, agriculture, fires are even more common.

Furthermore, new interferences keep appearing, such as mountaineering. These cause habitats to shrink or vanish, deteriorating the isolation. An example is the habitat near Dragon Grassland, Qinling, which has retreated 10km to the North due to open tourism. Another example is the vanishing of panda population near Baisha River, south to Qionglai Mountain, due to hydroelectric power plant development. These all explain the difficult situation of giant panda protection.”

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Pandas’ Existing Status

The giant panda has once spread across the watersheds of Yangzi River, Yellow River and Pearl River, ranging from Beijing suburbs to Guangdong area, even Southeast Asia. Now we can only see them in ranges of Qinling Mountains, Min Mountains, Qionglai Mountains, Liang Mountains, and Xiangling Mountains.

According to the 4th National Investigation on the Giant Panda, there are only 1,864 pandas living in the wild, where 80% of them reside in Sichuan Province.Ranging across the 49 prefectures of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu, giant panda’s habitats cover a total area of 258 million hectares.

By 2014, 67 natural reserves have been established across the country for pandas, 27 more than there were during the 3rd investigation. However, 46.2% of the habitats, accommodating 33.2% of the entire population, still exist outside natural reserves. Habitat isolation and threats to smaller communities call for responsibility of the people to protect.

By 2015, there are 425 reared giant pandas across the world. Among all the protection bases, only 4 have constantly reared more than 10 individuals, namely The China Research Center For The Protection of Giant Pandas, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Qinling Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding, and Beijing Zoo. Beside, giant pandas are also living in more than 40 other rearing sites, including Shirahama Adventure World in Wakayama, and Atlanta Zoo.

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Panda Museum

The construction of China’s first museum for pandas was completed in the Sichuan Wolong Nature Reserve, the hometown of pandas, and will officially open to the public next month. There are a lot of precious objects and pictures displayed in the museum. Please follow our camera to have a look at it. 

After three years of construction, the China Wolong Panda Museum has been completed basically. The museum covers an area of nearly 5,000 square meters, and is divided into five exhibition halls – environment, life, protection, etc.

Through nearly a thousand photos, more than 400 physical specimens, and a large number of exhibition boards and image materials. The basic conditions of the origin, evolution process and living habits of pandas are introduced in a simple way. 

It also shows the achievements of the Chinese government in protecting pandas over many years, as well as the latest achievements in the study of pandas domestically and abroad.

In addition, visitors can also learn about the secrets of pandas. By operating through different buttons, you can choose to listen to the sound of pandas in different seasons.

Many high-tech facilities will lead visitors into the wonderful world of pandas. It is estimated that many precious photos and specimens of the China Wolong Giant Panda Museum are exhibited for the first time.

It will become a popular scientific base for people to understand more about pandas, and it may become a flagship of animal protection in nature.

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Why Should We Protect Pandas

According to the fourth survey of national giant pandas in 2015, there are 1864 wild giant pandas in the country, 375 of them are in captivity, and their habitats constitute of an area of 2.58 million to 3.49 million hectares. Therefore, it was decided in 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that pandas belong to the “vulnerable species”. 

This means that giant pandas’ threat level is similar to that of wild yak and river deer. In the domestic species known to the public, Rhinopithecus bieti, Manchurian Tiger, Asian elephant, Panthera uncia, Nipponia nippon, and Red-crowned crane are the endangered species. Chinese pangolin, gibbons, ‎Yellow-breasted Bunting are the critically endangered species.

Elaphurus davidianus is an extinct species in the wild, and the white dolphin has gone into extinction. All of these species are in a much more hopeless condition than giant pandas.

Still, we emphasize strongly on the protection of giant pandas – it’s because they are way too lovely.

It’s not being emotional when we said that we wanted to protect giant pandas because of their cute appearance. There is a profound meaning behind – the relationship between China’s population and the environment is highly tensed, and all species are in the reach of humans. If the protection of wild animals is without the support of the public, any effort by the charities will only be in vain.

Taking the pangolin and the Yellow-breasted Bunting as examples, no matter how the Government educates about the public on its measurements of punishment, the public will still continue eating them if they firmly believe that they can be turned into delicious meals and effective medicine.

Therefore, with their cuteness, the giant pandas have taken on their responsibility as being a flagship species and umbrella species. The so-called flagship species is a species that attracts widespread public attention, and has the potential to attract money, like celebrities. 

Through the meticulous operation of organizations of animal protection, giant pandas have become the beloved sweetheart of social media, they’ve become the link of international relations, and even a symbol of the country. Public welfare organizations have won a lot of prestige and funds to better protect more species. 

The American Bald Eagles, the Asian elephants of Thailand, and the Bengal tigers of India are all such flagship species, but frankly, none of them look as cute as the giant pandas, even the official symbol of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is a giant panda.

As an umbrella species, the practical significance of protecting giant pandas is even greater – there are so many species that need to be protected, and such protection require large human, material, and financial resources. Fortunately, once we succeed in protecting the umbrella species, we end up protecting the other species which live with them too.

By the end of 2014, the Chinese government has established 67 protected areas in the area of giant pandas, covering an area of more than 3.36 million hectares, including 179 species of mammals, accounting for 32% of the total number of mammals in China.

There are 565 species of birds, it accounts for 39% of birds in China; there’re also 81 species of reptiles, accounting for about 20% of reptiles in China, nearly half of which are endemic to China. Furthermore, there’re 92 species of amphibians, accounting for 26% of amphibians in China. We can almost say that the giant panda has sheltered nearly one-third of the species in China. How almighty are they?

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Why Rewild Captive Pandas

The basic goal of Breeding giant panda in zoos is to establish a self-sustaining captive population of pandas. The ultimate goal is to release captive individual pandas into the wild environment, and to rebuild or restore wild populations.

The initial stage of development of captive giant panda population is a process of gradually reducing dependence on wild populations. Once the stage of self-sustainment is reached, that is, the dependence on wild populations is eliminated, there would naturally be an ability to provide captive individuals to the wild. Then, we could rebuild or rehabilitate the wild populations, and to achieve a positive interaction between the wild and captive populations.

1) A proper release of captive individuals is conducive to the improvement of the survival of wild giant pandas.

As mentioned above, for isolated small populations of wild giant pandas, proper addition of captive individuals can increase the population size, enhance its ability to cope with environmental fluctuations and other random disturbances. It can also improve the genetic structure of the population and increase genetic diversity, reduce inbreeding, thereby maintaining the potential for long-term evolution and development of the population in nature.

2) After reaching the number of populations capable of self-sustainment, reintroduction can to a certain extent reduce the load brought by the increased size of captive populations.

After achieving the basic goal of self-sustainment, maintaining more races in a captive environment is not only a waste of the race itself, but it also brings an increased pressure on human, material and financial resources. In this case, a proper release of captive individuals is not a bad idea either for the development of races or for the reduction of government resources.

3) Accumulate experiences with returning pandas to the wild and provide references for other large and medium-sized endangered species

Releasing them to the wild is a risky project. The wild release of this special species is helpful to provide examples and references for the release of other captive species in all aspects.