population size is sufficiently demographically stable to consider reintroduction population size is sufficiently demographically stable to consider reintroduction sudden decline) to expanding tools in risk assessment and molecular genetics (to understand population stability and to develop metapopulation management scenarios).
Given the progress occurring in China, it is only a matter of time before the ex situ giant panda population becomes self-sustaining (at about 300 individuals worldwide; see Chapter 21). The value of this collective group of animals as an 'insurance policy' for wild counterparts cannot be overemphasised. Although there are challenges to genetically managing giant pandas in captivity, this group retains 97% of the heterozygosity of the wild panda population because of the presence of many founders (see Chapter 21). Meanwhile, giant pandas living in the wild remain highly vulnerable to a long list of potential threats - from habitat fragmentation making some populations too small to be reproductively and genetically viable to unforeseen catastrophes ranging from bamboo die-offs to disease epidemics. As long as the ex situ population does not detract from more efforts to study giant pandas and their habitats in situ, those animals in captivity provide some comfort as a hedge against losses in gene diversity, populations or the entire species. Finally, although reintroduction currently appears premature (Mainka et al, 2004), once demographically and genetically secure, the ex situ population could serve as the resource for releasable candidates.
In 1999, CBSG was invited by the SFA and the Sichuan Forestry Department to facilitate a workshop on 'Conservation Assessment and Research Techniques', which was held in the Wolong Nature Reserve. Attended by 65 participants, mostly Chinese, the workshop sought to identify the highest priorities that could benefit giant pandas (Yan et al., 2000). As usual during such meetings, working groups formed to spend several days discussing issues, which in this case focused on monitoring, surveys, wild population dynamics/genetics, habitats, the needs of reserves and local communities, and the role of the captive panda population in supporting its wild counterpart. The resulting report provided a detailed blueprint for the future. In reading it, one is struck by a common theme that emerged from every working group. The highest priority articulated by the Chinese participants was for more information sharing, specifically training. This need was requested at multiple levels to achieve one ultimate purpose: to develop internal abilities to independently and efficiently study and conserve not only the giant panda but also all indigenous wildlife.
And, in recent years, American zoos (predominantly those holding giant pandas) have responded by providing capacity assistance. Table 22.2 lists the formal courses and course descriptions that have been provided by four USA panda-holding institutions - San Diego Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Memphis Zoo - within China. In situ training opportunities have ranged from general conservation biology (Fig. 22.1) to forest health to geographical information system (GIS)/remote sensing for reserve managers to radiocollaring methods for black bears. Generally, courses involved equipment donations to participating institutions. For example, GIS courses were always accompanied by gifts of computers and software which were carefully distributed across the various panda reserves. For ex situ training, the emphasis has been on those practical tools that could enhance health and reproductive management of the captive panda population. Such courses ranged from methods and protocols for banking of biomaterials (e.g. sperm, tissue, blood products and DNA) to the design and enrichment of zoo environments for addressing
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