for National Geographic News
The first captive-born giant panda ever released into the wild has been found dead in southwest China, wildlife officials announced yesterday.
The body of Xiang Xiang, a five-year-old male panda, was discovered on snow-covered ground in the bamboo forests of Sichuan Province on February 19 (see a map of China). The news was held until experts could conduct a full examination.
The panda appears to have died from injuries it sustained in a fall after getting into a fight with wild-born males.
Released last April, Xiang Xiang was the first and only giant panda to be set free since captive breeding of the rare animals began more than 40 years ago.
Conservationists had hoped that the pioneer panda would mark the start of a successful program to reintroduce the endangered mammals in their native habitat.
The examination of Xiang Xiang's body revealed that the panda had suffered broken ribs and serious internal damage, according to staff at the Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda at Wolong Nature Reserve in China.
"Scratches and other minor injuries caused by other wild pandas were found on his body," the center's Heng Yi told the Associated Press.
"Xiang Xiang may have fallen from trees when being chased by those pandas."
The 176-pound (80-kilogram) male was reared at the Wolong center, where he was trained for a new life in the wild from the age of two.
Xiang Xiang, whose name means "lucky" or "auspicious," had been fitted with a collar carrying a satellite tracking device.
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