The first pen-bred panda released into the wild by humans was found dead in a snow covered area in southwest China on February 19, according to a May 31 Xinhua News Agency report. The incident struck a blow to the morale of researchers involved in the China-based Captive Pandas Reintroduction Project.
Experts say the panda, named Xiang Xiang, lacked sufficient skills to survive in the wild. He may have fought for territorial rights and food with other wild pandas before his death. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be serious internal injuries caused from a high fall.
A Xinhua follow-up report from Chengdu emphasized that the reintroduction project will continue despite this incident. Researchers have learned that proper survival experience for captive pandas is crucial and will improve the panda reintroduction training based on this.
Li Desheng, deputy director of the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center, told Xinhua News Agency that the study for reintroducing pandas into the wild has shown that it is harder for male pandas to be accepted in wild panda communities. In the next reintroduction plan they will try a female panda.
Xiang Xiang was born in the Wolong research center on August 25, 2001. After three years of wild life adaptation training, he was released into the forests in April 2006 with a positioning collar around his neck.
There are believed to be only about 1,590 wild pandas existing in the world today. Most live in the mountainous regions of the Sichuan basin in southwest China. China has about 180 captive pandas.