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Country flirting with possible surplus of pandas

By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-08 08:41
Two panda cubs born in 2019 snuggle up together while they make a public appearance at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda to celebrate the upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan province, on Sept 24, 2019. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda now has more than 300 captive pandas for the first time.

It is home to 312 of the captive animals making the center the largest captive panda population in the world, according to the latest information released recently by the center in Sichuan province.

The head count means the center has been able to develop a self-sustaining and growing captive panda population with the ability to release them into the wild in order to enlarge the wild panda population, said Zhang Hemin, executive chief of the center.

Pandas are native to Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

As of November, the country had 548 captive pandas, according to the State Forestry and Grassland Administration.

In 1980, an agreement between the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Chinese government led to the establishment of the center in the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan. The center is now the world's largest panda conservation and research organization.

Traditionally, visitors have not expected to see lots of pandas at the center. Wan Yongqing, a middle-aged panda fan from Beijing, said, "Since my childhood, I have been told pandas are an endangered species."

But visitors are pleasantly surprised when they visit the center thanks to the painstaking work of its researchers to solve the three main problems in breeding pandas in captivity-the short estrus, mating and nursing.

Through their work, the center has rescued the animals from the brink of extinction and built up the number of captive pandas there from a mere 10 to 312.

It used to be difficult for captive pandas to become ruttish and mate, and producing viable offspring has always been somewhat of a challenge. But from 1992 to 2006, our researchers solved all three problems, Zhang said.

With the world's largest captive panda population, the center no longer catches wild pandas for research. Instead, it sends captive pandas into the wild, he said.

Since 2006, the center has sent 11 captive pandas into the wild. Nine are still verifiably alive.

Tao Tao, then a 2-year-old male panda from the center, was released into the wild in the Liziping Nature Reserve in Sichuan in 2012. He was discovered in a tree a year later.

After a veterinarian tranquilized him with a dart, a blood test showed the panda was in good health.

Tao Tao weighed 42 kilograms when he was released. When he was found a year later, he had gained at least 10 kg.

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