For pandas, life in captivity is good, but conservationists want captive-born individuals to move into the wild. Image credit: Jeff Kubina/Flickr
Captive breeding of pandas is a notoriously difficult process. When a birth does occur, it is a triumph for zoologists and the species—which, with fewer than 1,600 individuals left in the wild, is one of the world's most critically endangered.
When these zoo-raised miracles reach adulthood, however, conservationists face another dilemma: Preparing the pandas to survive on their own in the wild.
Panda calisthenics? Captive-born pandas need to get fit to move into the wild. Image credit: dbking/Flickr
To make this transition easier—and develop it as a viable option for its 300 captive bred pandas—China plans to build a new center dedicated to the introduction of pandas into the wild.
The center, estimated to cost $8.8 million to build, will encompass 21.5 acres of closed panda habitat, as well as 2,800 acres of woodlands. The two zones, researchers explained, will be used alternately over a long period of time, giving pandas the opportunity to safely acclimate to the new lifestyle.
Image credit: Chi King/Flickr
For the initial five to 10 years, pandas will live in the experimental zone—a closed panda habitat that allows for frequent contact with humans and provides cages for the pandas to live in. After this period, the pandas may move into the larger wilderness area, where their contact with humans will be significantly reduced.
There, the pandas will learn to live in caves and forage for their own food, but still receive medical care from researchers and participate in artificial breeding programs. Once established in this area, pandas may graduate to the adjacent wildlife preserve.
The entire process, researchers estimate, will take a minimum of 15 years.
Read more about pandas:
Photos of Panda Bear Growing Up, First Three Months
Panda's Love of Bamboo Supported by Their Stomachs, Not Their Genes
Rare Brown and White Panda Could be the Result of Inbreeding
China's Giant Panda Could Be Extinct Soon (2-3 Generations)
Famed Panda Reserve Destroyed By China Quake