It is fortunate that now there is so much intensive interest and action in place for the giant panda and before demographic and genetic instability has set in. In numerous other species, experience has shown that it is essential to develop comprehensive management and/or recovery plans well before species numbers become critical. In such cases, early intervention (which may include captive breeding) can provide a timely and cost-effective, integrated approach that allows problems to be addressed before there is a crisis and no time for research or errors (Ellis & Seal, 1995). For many threatened species, such as the black-footed ferret, California condor and Hawaiian crow, captive breeding options were resisted until the wild populations crashed (often to fewer than 20 individuals), genetic erosion had begun, and the species was at maximum risk.
In contrast, the Chinese approach has been bold as well as visionary - acting now while there is time and adequate genetic diversity (see Chapter 10 and 21). A dream to develop a self-sustaining captive population of giant pandas in China was initiated only in 1996. As this book explains, Chinese efforts to achieve this goal while simultaneously contributing to the protection of giant pandas in nature are well on their way. Certainly many obstacles remain but the purpose of this text is to demonstrate the value of taking many small and integrated steps. The priority is to be absolutely resolute, not faltering or becoming frustrated by the political complexities that generally accompany studying the world's most high-profile species. Rather, for both the wild and captive populations, there is a single priority: to continue to work together in intensive partnerships to create more biological knowledge that will ensure a genetically stable and viable population - in perpetuity.
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