Info

a Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

b China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (Wolong Nature Reserve).

c Facility associated with the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda.

d For international facilities, names in square brackets are the source of animals.

a Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

b China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (Wolong Nature Reserve).

c Facility associated with the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda.

d For international facilities, names in square brackets are the source of animals.

Therefore, the MoC and the SFA could advance progress significantly by facilitating compliance with breeding recommendations that are made on the basis of genetic priorities. This mostly involves providing formal governmental approvals to allow the timely shipment of animals (or germ plasm) from one institution to another.

Increase cub survival

Although declining precipitously in the last ten years, mortality rates for neonates remain alarmingly high - at 20 to 40% (see Fig. 19.1). There is a need to emphasise improved care for the dam prenatally and for the cub up to one year of age. This involves a complex array of issues that requires highly skilled personnel in nutrition, reproductive physiology, behaviour, nursery husbandry, neonatal medicine, infectious disease and immunology. The target is to increase offspring survival to one year of age, in part because some cubs survive the neonatal interval only to die before reaching their first birthday. There is a vast area of research into the cause(s) of this phenomenon which remains unexplored.

Improve overall knowledge of animal health

There is a paucity of information in the veterinary sciences for the giant panda, particularly on reproductive dysfunction, infectious disease and digestive disorders. The impact of the latter two on reproductive health is virtually unstudied and is in need of urgent attention. Research on infectious diseases is particularly limited because the extant ex situ giant panda population is dangerously limited in geographical scope. Of all the captive animals currently in China, 49% are held in three Sichuan institutions (24% at the centre in the Wolong Nature Reserve, 17% at the two Chengdu institutions and 7% at the new centre in Ya'an (Xie & Gipps, 2003)). A concentration of animals in a few locations places the overall population at extreme risk in the event of an infectious disease outbreak or other disaster. The potential devastation of a disease epidemic has been demonstrated frequently in the history of animal care and human societies, most recently by the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Asia, influenza virus in China's tiger farms and avian influenza throughout South-East Asia. The role of subclinical, chronic disease in compromising the reproductive health and survival of young animals is unknown. Loeffler, Zhang and Wildt have launched a serological survey of giant pandas in China to investigate the species' risk of exposure to various infectious diseases. This is an important first step towards filling this knowledge gap. A subsequent action would involve the major giant panda holding facilities in China (and respective government agencies) to support a single infectious disease laboratory. Such a core facility would conduct research and monitor wildlife diseases in China's captive and free-living wildlife. A related need is a national pathology repository that includes the expertise to identify and track diseases as well as maintain information databases that can be readily accessed and shared. This priority requires significant capacity building, including workshops for groups and advanced, highly specialised training for individuals.

Implement enrichment and behavioural management

Zoos throughout the world are recognising the importance of enriched animal environments (Bloomsmith et al, 2003). Enrichment activities not only enhance the quality of life in captivity, but also improve physical and mental health, reproductive capacity and maternal care that, in turn, boost neonatal survival and cub health (see Chapter 11). Operant conditioning techniques are now especially important for facilitating certain medical procedures and open many possibilities for more thorough biomedical investigations and improved preventive medicine and health monitoring.

Therefore, we endorse the need for more behavioural enrichment for giant pandas in captivity. Additionally, a high priority is training more giant pandas via operant conditioning to accept routine physical examinations, blood collection and ultrasonography, thereby avoiding the stress associated with restraint or anaesthesia (see also Chapter 15). We expect that the amount of new information to be gleaned from a closer, noninvasive but 'hands-on' approach could be significant. This will also require more interaction and training between behavioural scientists in China and their Western colleagues. The goal should be to build much more capacity in Chinese zoos in the disciplines of animal behaviour and environmental enrichment.

Step up the pace of activities

Although enormous progress has been made since the first cub was produced in captivity in 1963, we should not become too comfortable with our accomplishments. Given what we do not know about fundamental giant panda biology and accounts about the situation in the wild (especially habitat fragmentation), we cannot be too hasty in our scientific studies.

This priority requires approval by holding facilities and government agencies, commitment by experts and funding. Historically, giant panda breeding centres and zoos have been highly cooperative in conducting conventional studies as well as applying novel concepts and tools to benefit this endangered species. Given a sound, safe and scientific protocol, animals can be made available for study. Towards this point, there have also been adequate numbers of senior scientists wanting to study this species. In fact, much of the recent progress has been due to the dedication of many highly skilled investigators from holding zoos, in China and in the West. But it is critical that scientists from the West do not lose their enthusiasm for working in China, and there is a constant need to train more biologists in China (and in the West) to ensure plenty of investigative expertise.

The last priority - funding - will always be a challenge even for a charismatic species such as the giant panda. Historically, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has endorsed the use of giant panda loan funds (from the USA) only for supporting projects that conserve giant pandas in situ. This implies, therefore, that giant pandas in zoos do not contribute to conservation. However, we (as well as others, e.g. Ellis et al. in Chapter 1)

would argue that they do so at many levels. Much of the critical biological information being generated about the species will never be collected on wild individuals that are rare and elusive. Further, given the shaky and fragmented status of wild habitat, the captive population may well serve as the source for future reintroductions. So, although loan funds should always focus on sustaining giant pandas in nature, it makes sense that support should also be directed for solid scientific studies of giant pandas regardless of their location, in situ or ex situ. In the end, our goals are the same: sustaining healthy populations and providing the best information and data possible so that decisionmakers can ensure the long-term survival of this species. More intensive integration of these three factors - breeding centre cooperation, available scientists and funding - would increase the speed of necessary progress.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Power Of Charisma

The Power Of Charisma

You knowthere's something about you I like. I can't put my finger on it and it's not just the fact that you will download this ebook but there's something about you that makes you attractive.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment