Sunday, April 16, 2017

China makes breakthroughs in releasing giant pandas into wilderness.



China has made breakthroughs in releasing giant pandas into the wilderness as images captured in southwest China's Sichuan Province showed that a released giant panda is expanding its territory to wider range and trying to pair with local wild giant pandas. Infrared camera captured the images of a giant panda in wildness in the Yele Nature Reserve in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province in late February, the provincial forestry department said on Monday.

Researchers identified it as Zhang Xiang, a female giant panda that was born on August 20, 2011 and released into the wild on Nov. 6, 2013.The video footages showed that Zhang Xiang appeared to be vigilant and smelled the camera and a tree to identify whether there were smells of her species.The giant panda is living in a suitable environment where she can find enough bamboos. After investigating the pictures, videos and samples of the giant panda's excrement, researchers found it is in normal physical condition.

"The three elements for the habitat of a giant panda are water, bamboos and trees. You can see there are bamboos under the coniferous forest, but the bamboo is not so dense. That is the typical habitat for a wild giant panda. Choosing this place indicates Zhang Xiang has totally adapted herself to the ecological environment of the wild," said Zhang Hemin, standing deputy director of China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center. Zhang Xiang was released into the wild from Liziping Nature Reserve in Ya'an City after two years of wilderness training and learning surviving skills from her mother Zhang Ka, a wild giant panda from the Qianglai Mountains.

Researchers have been following Zhang Xiang's whereabouts since she was released. When they found Zhang Xiang's excrements in January 2016, she was still in the Liziping Nature Reserve. The wild giant panda population in the Liziping Nature Reserve are split into two different groups - the Gongyihai group living the east part of the nature reserve and the Shihuiyao group living in the west part. Zhang Xiang was in the territory of the Gongyihai group when she was released.

However, in April 2016, Zhang Xiang was found moving in the Shihuiyao group's habitat in the neighboring Yele Nature Reserve, making her the first giant panda moving across different nature reserves after being released from captivity. "It is the first giant panda that have ever moved from one population group to another. It is a ground-breaking achievement for our releasing effort," said Gu Xiaodong, deputy head of Wild Animal Resources Investigation and Protection Management Station, Sichuan Province.

Another finding indicates that Zhang Xiang has showed clear rutting behaviors and likely to mate with one of the giant pandas from local population group, which is the ultimate goal of China's research program on releasing the giant pandas into the wild. Wild giant pandas always leave their smells on trees when they go to a new environment to mark their territories for the identification of their population. A video clip time-stamped to Feb. 26 showed that Zhang Xiang started smelling from the root of a tree. About one minute later, her forelegs pressed on the tree trunk with her entire body upright to smell to the upper side.

"She stood up later, and smelled the mark from the root to the place of more than one meter high. This indicates the mark was left by a male [giant panda]. This implies that Zhang Xiang showed a great interest in the male's mark and she is sexually mature. She has grown into a mature lady showing growing interest on males," said Zhang. Zhang Xiang is five years old now, equivalent to a person of 20 years old. Giant panda's mating season starts from February to early May each year. Therefore she is very likely to be a mother in this spring. Releasing animals into the wilderness is a way to protect and restore threatened and endangered species.

China has trained and released seven giant pandas into the wilderness since July 2003, when the country's first giant panda release took place. However, the first released giant panda Xiang Xiang died after falling from high position when fighting with other wild giant pandas for territory. Researchers started to let cubs learn wilderness survival skills from their mothers in July 2010, and giant pandas Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang were among the cubs that have completed their two-year training and been released since October 2012. Others following the two include Hua Jiao and Zhang Meng.

Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang have managed to establish their territories and reached the breeding age, according to present monitoring. China has established 67 nature reserves for giant pandas and the move has effectively protected 60 percent of the wild giant panda's habitats and over 70 percent of their population.

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