They’re unique and extraordinary animals and the world would be poorer without them [on giant pandas]
Tai Shan, the beloved four and a half year-old resident of the National Zoo in Washington D.C. has finally arrived in China where he will be part of a panda breeding program at Wolong’s Bifengxia Panda base in Ya’an, Sichuan.
The giant panda is one of the universally recognized symbols of conservation. This super cute and world’s rarest bear has been the emblem of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) since the 1960s.
For decades, this organization along with several others like the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, and the San Diego Zoological Society has been working with Chinese scientists to improve conservation efforts in China by establishing captive breeding programs and studying the behavior and reproductive biology of this extremely threatened species.
Despite the fact that it is not easy for Pandas to reproduce in captivity, the success of these programs are of critical importance, not only as insurance in case the species goes extinct in the wild -like many others in the past- but also to create a source of reintroduction into the wild.
Tai Shan whose name means “peaceful mountain” is the product of this huge endeavor. His parents Tian Tian -“more and more”- and Mei Xiang -“beautiful fragrance”, arrived to the National Zoo on December of 2000 from Wolong, China as part of a breeding program that carefully matches potential giant panda parents in order to increase the chances of keeping the very small panda population (1600 in the wild) genetically healthy. As a condition of this program, any baby born to the famous zoo couple (or other zoos famous couples) would belong to China and would have to be returned once it is old enough to become part of the breeding population there.
Tai Shan was due to return to China in 2007 but the Chinese government gracefully extended his stay for two more years to the delight of the D.C Zoo fans, including myself. It gave me the opportunity to visit him and his parents several times in the last couple of years and take many pictures and video of this beautiful bear. But everything has to come to an end, and as a Tai Shan fan said to the China Daily a day before his departure, “he is a big boy now and needs to fulfill his destiny. He will make some panda girl very happy and will produce the most gorgeous cubs.”
More about Giant Pandas coming soon.