Analysis of demographic and genetic trends for developing a captive breeding masterplan for the giant panda

jonathan d. ballou, philip s. miller, zhong xie, rongping wei, hemin zhang, anju zhang, shiqiang huang, shan sun, victor a. david, stephen j. o'brien, KAthy traylor-holzer, ulysses s. seal, david e. wildt introduction

The foundation of any managed breeding programme for animals living in captivity is a studbook. This is the chronological listing of animals in the historical captive population detailing birth and death dates, gender, parentage, locations, transfers and local identification numbers (Glatston, 1986). Analyses of these data provide critical information on past trends in population size, age-specific reproductive and survival rates, age structure, numbers of founders, degree of inbreeding, loss of genetic diversity and other measures useful for evaluating temporal changes in a captive population. This information then becomes the basis for making management recommendations to enhance the demographic and genetic security of the captive population (Ballou & Foose, 1996). Demographic security is needed to ensure that an adequate number of breeding-aged animals are available to reproduce at the rates needed to grow or maintain the population at its desired size. Genetic diversity is required for the population to remain healthy and to adapt to changing environments (i.e. experience natural selection).

Giant Pandas: Biology, Veterinary Medicine and Management, ed. David E. Wildt, Anju Zhang, Hemin Zhang, Donald L. Janssen and Susie Ellis. Published by Cambridge University Press. # Cambridge University Press 2006.

The 2001 International Studbook for the Giant Panda contains detailed life history information on 542 giant pandas that have lived in zoos around the world (Xie & Gipps, 2001). The first entry, giant panda Stud-book (SB) Number 1, is Su Lin, a wild-caught female who arrived at Brookfield Zoo on 2 February 1937 (see Chapter 1). A quick scan of the studbook leaves one with the impression that the captive population's dynamics are dominated by entry and subsequent death of wild-caught animals without sustainable reproduction. However, this situation has changed. Since 1990, the population has experienced increased reproduction with decreased mortality, the result being a substantial expansion in population size. The outlook is cautiously optimistic.

Partially in response to the expanding population and partly due to recent molecular analyses to clarify paternity (see Chapter 10), the first genetic management workshop for giant pandas was held in Chengdu, China, in January 2002. The aims of this meeting were to:

1. discuss broad objectives for the ex situ breeding programme, including setting population size objectives;

2. brainstorm an organisational structure for a cooperative breeding programme;

3. begin making breeding recommendations for the worldwide population based on demographic and genetic needs.

While these concepts were new for China, models could be shared from experiences of the largely successful Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association or AZA (Foose, 1989; Hutchins & Wiese, 1991). The SSP concept was implemented in 1981 as a cooperative captive population management programme for selected taxa in USA zoos and aquaria. SSPs were initially developed to maintain healthy, self-sustaining populations that were genetically diverse and demographically stable. However, over time they have evolved to become more comprehensive and conservation-oriented, encompassing diverse research, public education, fund raising, field project and reintroduction activities.

In this chapter we present results of analyses used to develop the first ever set of global ex situ breeding recommendations for the giant panda. The basis of our technical calculations was the studbook, which provided the demographic and genetic data for developing projections and determining relationships of potential mates. We examine changing demographic trends over the past ten years while evaluating the population's genetic status using pedigree analysis. Our primary objective is to evaluate the population's self-sufficiency: does it have the demographic momentum and genetic foundation to create a long-term, self-sustaining ex situ population that can serve as a healthy and viable back-up for giant pandas living in nature? Population viability analyses are used to help answer this question.

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