A female panda raised in captivity has given birth after successfully mating with a wild panda for the first time, the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda said in a statement.
Experts said the successful breeding could help diversify the gene pool of the wild panda population.
Cao Cao, 15, gave birth to a male cub at the Wolong Hetaoping Wild Training Base in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province on Monday.
The birth marked the first time a captive panda was released into the wild and successfully mated, according to a statement sent to the Global Times by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda on Tuesday.
The cub weighs 216 grams, well above the 150-gram average, the center said.
Cao Cao, already a mother of six cubs, including two pairs of twins, was the first panda to be chosen for the pilot breeding program.
The center said Cao Cao was chosen because she had been trained in the wild.
As of November, there were 471 captive pandas worldwide. However, its genetic diversity is shrinking, as captive pandas have been mating with each other.
Zhang Hemin, the center’s executive deputy director, said in a statement that aside from enhancing genetic diversity, allowing captive pandas to mate with wild ones also provides a new way to prepare captive pandas for the wild.
Letting captive pandas mate with wild ones helps with their reproduction, as it is extremely difficult for pandas to get pregnant and give birth, Zhao Huawen, founder of the Eudemonia Bank, an organization based in Chengdu dedicated to protecting the panda’s habitat, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
He added that giant pandas have a low fertility rate due to their sexual apathy. Female pandas become pregnant only once a year and deliver at most three cubs.
“Captive male pandas capable of natural mating are extremely rare, accounting for less than five percent of the total population,” Zhao said, adding that because of this, experts often resort to artificial insemination.
Female pandas are likely to get pregnant only three days a year at most, and their eggs only survive from 36 to 40 hours, making conception even more difficult, Zhang Guiquan, director of the center’s Ya’an base, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Cao Cao was released into the wild on March 1, and researchers said she had mated with a wild male panda on March 27, according to data from a GPS tag on her neck, the center said.
Zhang Zhizhong, Party chief of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, said that allowing captive pandas to mate with wild ones helps build a panda theme park to better protect them.
China is planning to invest 30 billion yuan ($4.47 billion) to construct a 27,000-square-kilometer panda national park, which will be spread over parts of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, the China Reform Daily reported in April, adding this encourages genetic communication among different panda groups.
Cao Cao’s case is also significant for the building of the park because it’s a breakthrough in teaching captive pandas how to bond with wild ones, Zhao said, because wild pandas are very aggressive and tend to attack any creature that approaches them.
He suggested that researchers carefully choose pandas for training in the wild and monitor them in the wild to prevent them from getting hurt or killed.
Hesheng, a captive-bred male panda, was attacked by an unknown animal and died in September 2016, two months after being released into the wild in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, according to the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.
An autopsy confirmed Hesheng died of septicemia due to a bacterial infection from its wounds.
Another female panda named Qian Qian, which was released together with Hesheng, was returned to adaptation training in September 2016 due to concerns over its ability to survive the winter in the wild.
— (Global Times)
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