The study and control of diseases have not been traditional priorities in giant panda management, even though neonatal mortality, chronic and debilitating disease, compromised reproduction and premature death have been problems. Recent years have seen an increased awareness of the role of diseases in captive and free-living wildlife populations, with pathology integral to both diagnosis and creating new scholarly knowledge.
Growing concerns in the zoo community about the stress of captivity, pathogen transmission and the emergence of novel infectious agents are driving a rising interest in wildlife disease. It is also critical to understand diseases in ex situ populations of animals that may be released into the wild. The reintroduction of giant pandas into native habitats has been a focus of several conservation proposals, including the National Conservation Management Plan for China (MacKinnon et al., 1989). The recommended course of action in this plan failed to emphasise the importance of veterinary care and pathological investigations of illness and mortality in the captive population. Ten years later, the CBSG Giant Panda Biomedical Survey (1998 to 2000; Zhang et al., 2000; see Chapters 4 and 15) recognised that a clear understanding of health and disease must be a priority in the plan to
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.
secure a viable ex situ giant panda population. The next step then would be to integrate new information with mitigating approaches to optimise health, which, in turn, would promote reproduction.
A workshop on veterinary medicine and nutrition (again associated with CBSG) was held in Chengdu in 1999 to provide baseline training in these areas. Later in that year, another CBSG workshop was held in the Wolong Nature Reserve that focused on identifying priorities for conserving giant pandas in situ (Yan et al, 2000). A working group on captive management at this meeting placed substantial emphasis on health and pathology. It pointed out that information about diseases in captive giant pandas is not only necessary for the controlled reintroduction of individuals into the wild, but also may influence disease management and prevention in giant pandas in situ. The working group also recommended the need for training zoo veterinarians, advice that resulted in the first Workshop on Diagnostic and Clinical Pathology in Zoo and Wildlife Species ( June 2002, Beijing). Participants at this workshop recognised the importance of pathology in the veterinary management of zoo collections, and expressed a personal need for more training. The international giant panda conservation community has also realised the need for training in veterinary medicine, diagnostics and pathology in China, in part to reach the overall goal of a self-sustaining, ex situ panda population. Although much remains to be learned about this species, a remarkable amount of rudimentary information is available. This chapter summarises what is known about diseases in this species, with a special emphasis on pathology.
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