Wednesday 11 January six captive-bred giant pandas will start their rehabilitation period in the “Panda Valley”, a 134 hectares of enclosed forest in southwest China Sichuan Province. The two to four year olds will be released into the wild as soon as they have proven to be ready to take care for themselves in ‘wild’ conditions.
The rehabilitation and release is part of a 50-years project that is one of the most ambitious attempts to replenish (and introduce new genes into) the endangered population with 100 captive-bred animals. But many conservationists fear the programme will distract attention from the more important task of protecting the animal in the wild and could lead to tragedy. Moreover, in previous cases where re-introduction of endangered species into the wild have been successful the released animals were raised in the wild – and not captive bred – and just relocated to the region from which they went extinct.
Many re-introductions of giant pandas have proven unsuccessful so far. They fell ill because they could not sustain themselves or died. Of 10 pandas released since 1983, only two survived in the wild. Six were captured again and returned to the breeding centre after severe weight loss, and two supposedly died.
This time researchers hope a phased approach will bring greater success. These six animals, born and raised in Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, are rehabilitated and trained in a controlled area of 134 hectares called Panda Valley. The scientists hope that the young adolescent animals will be resilient enough to survive in the wild. Those who can cope best with the simulated ‘wild’ situation will eventually be released into the nature reserve.
Giant Pandas eating, moving, and playing at the “Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地), northeast of Chengdu, China:
(Source: the Guardian, 10.01.2012; SkyNews, 10.01.2012; China.org.cn, 09.01.2012; Wikipedia)