Concluding the need for a systematic assessment of as many giant pandas as possible was simple compared to all the other steps required to implement such a bold plan. The potential impediments were substantial, perhaps the most uncertain being our ability to secure appropriate official approvals. Recall that the 1996 workshop was sanctioned and sponsored by MoC with no SFA participation. Thus, more than 25% of the giant panda population (mostly housed at the breeding centre in Wolong) could perhaps be excluded from the Survey due to federal agency boundaries. There were also, of course, the issues of identifying leaders, teams, funding, study times and locations.
Because of his extensive involvement in the Cheetah Biomedical Survey, David Wildt was invited by Ulie Seal to lead the eventual visiting team to China. Wildt, in turn, invited Susie Ellis, then the Senior Program Officer for CBSG, to co-lead the operation. They travelled to China as representatives of CBSG in September 1997 to negotiate a final implementation plan with Shuling Zheng and the CAZG staff. During this meeting, it was decided that the Survey would commence in February 1998 (at breeding season onset so that data were collected from animals that hopefully were approaching their physiological peak). CAZG would coordinate negotiations with holding zoos, and it was decided that most emphasis would be placed on institutions holding significant numbers of giant pandas. For this first visit, that meant that the target institutions would be the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, nearby Chengdu Zoo, Chongqing Zoo and Beijing Zoo. There was agreement that as much data as possible would be collected from every animal, including proven breeders as well as individuals that were ill. There was also consensus that animals would be permanently marked via both tattoos and electronic (chip) transponders implanted under the skin. CBSG agreed to be responsible for assembling the team with the appropriate expertise and securing the funds for equipment purchase, travel and daily allowances.
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