Panda Baby Boom Fends Off Extinction


Photo credit: zidane_0120/Creative Commons

With only an estimated 1,590 giant pandas alive in the wild—and fewer than 300 in captivity—some conservationists have predicted that the species could be extinct within two or three generations.

One hope, of course, is captive breeding but the notoriously fickle pandas have made such programs unreliable. But now, a baby boom is giving conservationists a new hope for the longevity of the giant panda.The recent birth of a pair of twins at the Wolong Panda Reserve in Sichuan province, China, brought the year's total to 19 successful panda births—beating the previous record of 18 set in 2006.

Female pandas are only able to conceive three days every year—and most males never succeed in mating with females in the wild. For the pandas, these low success rates are not the only concern: As their small population is compressed due to habitat loss, inbreeding could also become a problem.

Tang Chunxiang, a panda breeding expert at the reserve, explained that a better understanding of panda nutrition, artificial insemination, and genetics—and larger, more natural habitats—have allowed them to achieve more success with their breeding programs.

By stabilizing the number born in captivity each year, experts hope that a sustainable population can be achieved—and that captive-born pandas can be returned to the wild to bolster populations there.

Read more about pandas:
Photos of Panda Bear Growing Up, First Three Months
China's Giant Panda Could Be Extinct Soon (2-3 Generations)
Rare Brown and White Panda Could be the Result of Inbreeding
First Panda Born With Frozen Sperm (Video)

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species