A Chinese program to re-introduce pandas to the wild is facing logistical challenges because the captive-breed bears may not have the skills necessary to survive on their own. The endangered panda captive breeding program both at zoos in China and in the United States has been a success, but conservationist supporters of the program feel a program to send the bears back to their natural habitat is failing.
Panda conservation programs, which gained momentum in the 1980s spurred the creation of a research breeding base in Chengdu, a part of the Sichuan province, according to Voice of America. In 1987, the program consisted of just six giant panda bears. Two decades later, the captive population has grown to over 300 captive bears. Approximately 1,600 pandas are now living in the wild, according to Business Insider.
Chengdu Research Foundation principal researcher Dr. Hou Rong had this to say about the panda re-introduction into the wild program:
“So we have already created a sustainable population in captivity right now. But in the beginning it was really very, very difficult. But now we have solved the many problems in the breeding program so it really helps to have the captive population to increase. Our pandas have been living in captivity for five generations. So the panda mother doesn’t know how to live in the wild. This is a challenge for us.”
To plan to release captive pandas back into the wild stopped in 2006 when Xiang Xiang died. The captive panda, also known as Lucky, was killed by wild pandas a year after being released. Wildlife Conservation Society ecologist Dr. Georg Schaller is urging to the release program to begin anew. Dr. Schaller feels there is no reason to keep so many pandas in captivity and believes they should be introduced in protective areas where wild pandas are gone or nearly gone.