Experts call for less care for pandas

09:43, June 17, 2011      

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Several wildlife experts have warned that China's giant pandas might be a little spoiled.

While the welfare of the animals must still be taken into consideration, experts have said that the pandas should actually be given less care than they are currently used to, as it may prevent them from adapting to living in the wild.

Giant pandas, one of the country's national treasures, often receive more care in zoos and research centers than other animals.

"It is unfair for the animals to breed them in captivity like pets," said Zhang Jinyuan, vice head of the Beijing Zoo.

Most panda cubs begin life in an incubator, far from the natural touch of their mother. These pandas don't even have to mate when they get older, as artificial insemination ensures that they will reproduce, regardless of their mating habits.

According to Zhang Hemin, chief of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, the ability of China's pandas to mate is eroding because of the tradition of using artificial insemination to help the animals reproduce.

In southwest Sichuan Province, the Wolong panda breeding research base is home to a variety of male and female pandas born in captivity. Approximately one-third of the base's female pandas and two-thirds of its male pandas, however, have shown no interest in mating.

"During their mating season, they have failed to seek out new partners on their own," Zhang Hemin said.

Zhang Hemin said that even with the help of breeding experts, about 70 percent of the base's panda couples will fail to mate.

The captive nature of the pandas also causes problems in feeding. Zhang Jinyuan said that if the pandas are fed regularly by human keepers, "they will lose their basic capacity to survive in the wild."

The Beijing Zoo used to use human handlers to feed bamboo to its pandas. Now, the zoo plants bamboo thickets to allow the pandas to take their own food as they please, aiming to create a near-wild environment, Zhang Jinyuan said.

Sichuan Province has launched a new project to improve the fertility of giant pandas living on its Wolong panda breeding base.

"Xiang Xiang" was the first panda to be released into the wild forests near the Wolong base in 2006. He was found dead 10 months later, having been attacked and killed by wild pandas.

The base's breeding experts did not release another panda into the wild until July 2010, when four pregnant pandas were released into a semi-wild environment.

One month later, one of the pandas, nicknamed "Cao Cao," gave birth to a male cub nicknamed "Tao Tao."

The two pandas are healthy and have already acquired basic survival skills. In February, the mother and cub were transferred to a larger semi-wild training base in Wolong. Though still bound by fences, their new home, rich in vegetation, is not unlike the wild forests from which China's pandas originally came.

The pandas will live there until the young panda turns two and a half years old, in early 2013, said Huang. At that time, Tao Tao will be released into the wild mountains.

The Wolong base plans to expand its semi-wild training program in 2011.

"Being deprived from air-conditioning and prepared food may seem to be harmful on the surface, but this move will actually improve the pandas' survival skills, ultimately leading to the preservation of the species," said Zhang Hemin.

Zhang Jinyuan said that many other Chinese zoos are also changing the way they raise their pandas, implementing more "wild breeding" techniques to aid the pandas in regaining their wild instincts.

"Refraining from giving excessive care to the pandas is actually the best way for us to take care of them," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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