Back from the Edge of Extinction-the Panda

panda eating bamboo. bamboo is 99 percent of panda's diet. image from wikipedia

China has made huge efforts to promote panda-breeding over the past 30 years. But those efforts have nothing to do with the animal’s reclassification. They take place in captivity. The conservationists’ decision was based on the health of panda populations in the wild. The numbers there, according to government surveys, have increased from 1,114 in 1988 to 1,864 in the most recent panda census in 2013. This is five times as many as the number of captive pandas….Their increase in the wild reflects improvements in the pandas’ habitat, the dense bamboo forests of China’s south-west. After a period of chopping down everything in sight, the country now has 67 protected panda reserves, covering about half the animals’ range. Two-thirds of wild pandas live in them. The opportunity cost of such reservations is doubtless made lighter by the pandas’ earning power (foreign zoos pay $1m a year to rent a pair). But the government deserves credit for decades of conservation efforts…

The point of the captive breeding programme is to repopulate the wild. Pandas born in captivity undergo a two-year training process from teachers dressed in urine-soaked panda costumes, who teach them how to gather food and to be wary of people. But after years of effort only five captive-born pandas have been released. Two of those died. Two more are due to be introduced into the wild this winter.

Excerpts Giant pandas: Survival of the cutest, Economist, Sept. 10, 2016

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