Photo in the News: Captive-Bred Panda Released in China -- A First

Photo: Giant Panda
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Updated April 28, 2006—At 10 a.m. local time today a four-year-old panda in China became the first captive-bred giant panda released into the wild.

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Pictured yesterday being carried away from the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in Sichuan Province, Xiang Xiang weighs 176 pounds (80 kilograms) and is 3.6 feet (1.1 meter) tall.

The male giant panda has been fitted with a collar containing a satellite tracking device.

Zhang Hemin, the research center's head, said Xiang Xiang's experience "will help scientists study how artificially raised pandas adapt to the wild," according to the government-controlled Xinhua News Agency.

The giant panda, whose mother was artificially inseminated, was born at the center in August 2001. He has spent the last three years in a 50-acre (20-hectare) enclosure, where he was taught wilderness survival skills, according to news reports.

Xiang Xiang is now able to independently forage for food, mark his territory, build a den, and fend off intruders, reports say.

The late April release date was timed to the emergence of bamboo shoots, a staple panda food.

Xiang Xiang underwent a final physical checkup yesterday and was given a clean bill of health, according to Xinhua.

Pandas are among the world's most endangered animal species. As few as 1,600 remain in the wild, according to WWF, a conservation organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ginette Hemley, WWF's vice president for species conservation, said, "I think [reintroduction] is an important option to keep in [an] arsenal, but it shouldn't detract from the most critical need, which is conserving the species and habitat in the wild."

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