Entries in Pandas (2)


New Panda Conservations Project Enlists Ex-NBA Star

China Photos/Getty Images(DUJIANGYAN, China) -- The Chinese city of Dujiangyan Wednesday hosted two of China’s most iconic treasures -- the Giant Panda and former NBA basketball player Yao Ming.

Yao Ming was chosen to inaugurate a new protected area called Panda Valley, which Chinese conservationists hope will provide select pandas the tools they need to assimilate back into the wild. It is the latest attempt to give the notoriously difficult-to-breed species a leg up. Six young pandas were selected for the “wildlife training.” They’ll continue to get food and water from human caretakers, but they’ll be gradually eased into independent living. At least, that’s what scientists hope.

Giant pandas are one of those animal species for whom humanity is both a curse and a blessing. Urban development has led to devastating habitat loss (pandas need literally tons of bamboo to feed). But the innate evolutionary disadvantages of pandas have been helped by human intervention, in the form of artificial insemination. They do have one critical advantage that may have kept them alive longer than nature intended.

Giant pandas are irresistibly adorable. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into their preservation. It costs a million dollars a year just for a foreign zoo to borrow one (all Giant Pandas are the official property of the Chinese government). And everywhere they go, they are the star attraction. When the famed Wolong Preserve was damaged in a 2008 earthquake, international attention quickly turned to the fate of the prized pandas.

So it is no surprise that $4.75 million has been invested so far in this latest pet project. Only six hand-selected, hearty young panda pioneers will be introduced initially to the enclosure, but researchers hope to expand those numbers. The goal is reportedly to eventually release 100 pandas into the wild over the next fifty years, after they’ve undergone survival training. According to the government-run China Daily, the pandas will be allowed to forage and feed freely in the enclosure. But it’s unclear how effective such a program will be.

Introducing captive-bred animals into the wild remains a holy grail to conservationists, but doing so is extremely difficult. With pandas in particular, the challenges loom large. Out of ten pandas that have been released into the wild since 1983, only two are still living in the wild. Six were brought back to the preserve for medical reasons, and two are believed to have died. It’s not yet clear how this reserve equips pandas better for the wild than the Wolong Preserve, which also offers pandas a semi-wild environment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Giant Pandas Touch Down in Japan, Launch Panda-Monium

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images (file)(TOKYO) -- Japan pulled out all the stops Monday to welcome a pair of giant pandas from China. To say Japan is excited about its newest residents would be an understatement: panda flags lined the streets near Tokyo's Ueno Zoo -- the new home to the cuddly bears -- and the creatures even arrived in a plane painted to look like a panda. Restaurants throughout Japan's capital served up panda-themed dishes, while cafes frothed their lattes with panda designs.

Five-year-old male Bili and female Xiannu will fill a huge void left by Ling Ling, Ueno Zoo's last panda. The 22-year-old died of heart failure in 2008 -- after living the equivalent of 70 human years.

The new Tokyo residents are on lease from China for $950,000 a year, a giant price tag for the Tokyo municipal government. But the potential payoff could be huge: the bears are expected to rake in $240 million a year, giving the local economy a boost.

It's welcome news for a zoo that's seen the number of visitors decline from 3.5 million to 3 million a year since Ling Ling's death.

Japanese leaders also see a big payoff in the latest panda diplomacy. The Chinese imports come at a time when Sino-Japanese tensions are high, amid an ongoing territorial spat over disputed islands in southern Japan. Prime Minister Naoto Kan's cabinet hopes the bears will help smooth relations with China.

The public will get their first glimpse of the bears when the zoo unveils them late next month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio