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Scheme to put pandas back into wild makes progress

By Xinhua writers Ni Yuanjin and Sun Yang (Xinhua)

08:43, August 08, 2011

Giant panda Tao Tao, the world's first panda who was born in a near-wild environment by his captive-bred mother last August, has shown an awareness of territory and has a capacity to survive in the wild after a year of training, said a panda expert in southwest China's Sichuan Province on Sunday.

Tao Tao was born on August 3, 2010 in a semi-wild panda training base in Hetaoping, affiliated to the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Sichuan, where he and his mother Cao Cao, survived mudslides, snowstorms and torrential rains during the past year.

Tang Chunxiang, an expert with the center, said Tao Tao now is totally independent of synthetic foods offered by man, weighs 25 kilograms at present and has an awareness of territory.

"Tao Tao is physically in better shape than captive-bred cubs," Tang said.

The Wolong center has for some years looked to gradually release captive-bred giant pandas back to the wild.

The first program launched in 2003, however, suffered a setback when Xiang Xiang, a five-year-old male giant panda, was founded dead in the snow in February of 2007.

Xiang Xiang was released into the wild on April 28, 2006 -- the first captive-bred panda to be returned to the wild, after years of training in a captive environment. He was found to have established a territory of 5 to 10 square km in July, 2006, according to Zhang Hemin, chief of the Wolong center.

"Xiang Xiang died from fighting for territory or over a female mate with other male pandas in 2007," Zhang said.

According to Zhang, for captive-bred pandas, learning how to escape from enemies, get enough food, find a safe place to sleep and establishing an awareness of territory are difficult, but the key to surviving in the wild.

Panda experts have concluded that training cubs immediately after their birth, or even having pregnant pandas give birth to cubs in a near-wild environment with the least help from man, might be a solution.

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