The Giant Panda

The giant panda is particularly vulnerable to external pressures, in part because of an inherently slow rate of reproduction. In nature, a giant panda female reproduces only every second or third year and, although half the births are twins, only one cub is raised by the dam at the expense of the other. In captivity, the focus has been on finding ways to consistently promote reproduction in every genetically valuable individual, largely through improved husbandry, veterinary health and the use of assisted reproductive technologies, when necessary. Reproductive management is now also beginning to address the need to maintain genetic viability (see Chapter 21). Reduced gene diversity is of concern for the ex situ as well as in situ populations as this may compromise both health and reproduction through inbreeding depression. It has also become clear among Chinese managers that captive giant pandas are indeed an important research resource and insurance policy against catastrophes that might affect wild counterparts whose population is highly fragmented.

Our goal is simple: to continue to use scientific advances in husbandry, reproductive biology, veterinary medicine, genetics, nutrition and behaviour to build a self-sustaining captive population. We believe that this population could contribute to in situ conservation by enhancing biological knowledge about the giant panda, increasing public awareness about species uniqueness and, if necessary, providing healthy, viable individuals for reintroduction. From a Chinese perspective, learning how to manage giant pandas effectively in captivity lays a foundation for the initiation of similar programmes with other rare Chinese species.

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