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China’s Giant Panda Rewilding Program is like ‘Big Brother’ for these adorable bears

At ‘Panda Valley’, almost 150 cameras constantly monitor the panda equivalent of preschool as cubs learn how to pick the best bamboo, mothers chase off predators, and they learn to climb.

Raising cute pandas is complicated

During the last 20 years, China has successfully tackled three of the biggest problems holding the giant panda back. Through research and experimentation, researchers at China’s breeding centers have discovered how to encourage captive pandas to mate, how to make sure the pregnancy is successful, and how to keep the panda cubs alive once they’ve been born. 

Raising cute pandas: it’s complicated Giant panda cubs are adorable fluff balls that squeak and squeal. This endangered species is also incredibly tricky to breed and raise in captivity. In the 1960s, only 30% of infant pandas born at breeding centers survived. Today 90% survive. So, what changed? Source: YouTube/NationalGeographic

China’s dedication to panda research is leading the rest of the world in panda conservation

Through research and experimentation spanning 20 years, researchers at China’s breeding centers have discovered how to encourage captive pandas to mate, how to make sure the pregnancy is successful, and how to keep the panda cubs alive once they’ve been born. 

Regards mating, they found that offering the females a choice of mate as well as enriching panda diets leads to a better chance of successful mating. 

A panda pregnancy can range from 73 days to 324 days depending on the weight of the mother panda and conditions she experiences during pregnancy. This knowledge, backed by medical advancements in artificial insemination, has allowed for more successful pregnancies in captive pandas.

Pandas often give birth to twins, and mothers usually choose to nurture only the stronger cub, resulting in the other twin’s death. Panda keepers have found a way to save this cub by "sharing custody." 

Periodically, the keepers will swap out the infants, caring for one themselves while the other is with the mother. This way, every cub has a chance to survive. 

When in human care, the keepers must frequently massage the gut of the cub to help stimulate bowel movements—as infant pandas are unable to defecate without assistance.

All of these factors have led to the spike in the panda’s survival rates. More recently, the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda has made another breakthrough: It’s the only center in the world to successfully breed pandas and then release them into the wild. 

Five pandas have been released since 2006, though two have died. Before release, the pandas must go through a series of trials meant to test their abilities to survive in the wild, while avoiding human interference as much as possible. China’s dedication to panda research is leading the rest of the globe in panda conservation.

Scroll down for some of the cutest panda cub pictures you’ve ever seen.

Source: NationalGeographic

“Some local people say giant pandas have magic powers,” says Zhang, who directs many of China’s panda conservation efforts. “To me, they simply represent beauty and peace.” Almost 150 cameras allow him to constantly monitor the panda equivalent of preschool as cubs learn how to pick the best bamboo, mothers chase off predators, and they learn to climb.
Zhang Hemin—“Papa Panda” to his staff—poses with cubs born in 2015 at Bifengxia Panda Base “Some local people say giant pandas have magic powers,” says Zhang, who directs many of China’s panda conservation efforts. “To me, they simply represent beauty and peace.” Almost 150 cameras allow him to constantly monitor the panda equivalent of preschool as cubs learn how to pick the best bamboo, mothers chase off predators, and they learn to climb. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
But it won’t be for long: The panda is among the fastest growing mammals, increasing from around four ounces to four pounds in its first month.
Pandas are born blind, nearly hairless, squeaky, and 1/900 the size of its mother But it won’t be for long: The panda is among the fastest growing mammals, increasing from around four ounces to four pounds in its first month. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
This is the most popular stop for visitors touring the facilities. More than 400,000 people visit each year to glimpse and snap photos of China’s most beloved baby animals.
Caretaker Li Feng cradles her precious charge by the window of Bifengxia’s panda nursery This is the most popular stop for visitors touring the facilities. More than 400,000 people visit each year to glimpse and snap photos of China’s most beloved baby animals. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
In the wild, once they’ve grown to adulthood, female pandas may weigh up to 220 pounds and males up to 250 pounds, and they’ll range from four to six feet long.
A cub gets weighed at Bifengxia In the wild, once they’ve grown to adulthood, female pandas may weigh up to 220 pounds and males up to 250 pounds, and they’ll range from four to six feet long. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
Despite the pressure of keeping the babies alive and well, there are rare moments when the caretakers get to relax and enjoy the animals that depend on them.
In the incubator room at Bifengxia, cub keeper Liu Juan nuzzles a furry charge Despite the pressure of keeping the babies alive and well, there are rare moments when the caretakers get to relax and enjoy the animals that depend on them. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
About 50% of giant panda births in captivity produce twins, but most mothers will care for only one infant, so human keepers pitch in. In the wild it’s likely that only one cub of two would survive.
In the Bifengxia panda center nursery, keeper Li Feng handles a two-month-old cub About 50% of giant panda births in captivity produce twins, but most mothers will care for only one infant, so human keepers pitch in. In the wild it’s likely that only one cub of two would survive. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
One mom cares for all these cubs, only one of which she bore. Transferring a weak or rejected infant from its birth mother to a surrogate is helping boost cub survival at panda breeding centres.
Triple the cuteness—and the work One mom cares for all these cubs, only one of which she bore. Transferring a weak or rejected infant from its birth mother to a surrogate is helping boost cub survival at panda breeding centres. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
At the Hetaoping panda center, bears being trained to live in the wild mustn’t get used to seeing humans. Even the caretakers who clean the animals’ cages wear costumes that make them look (and smell) like pandas.
Photobomb? At the Hetaoping panda center, bears being trained to live in the wild mustn’t get used to seeing humans. Even the caretakers who clean the animals’ cages wear costumes that make them look (and smell) like pandas. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
Here a year-old cub explores the treetops in a Wolong enclosure; if it passes tests to gauge its survival skills and instincts, it may be released into the mountains.
Although giant pandas spend most of the day eating and sleeping, they love to climb and play Here a year-old cub explores the treetops in a Wolong enclosure; if it passes tests to gauge its survival skills and instincts, it may be released into the mountains. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale
At this stage it is important that there is no human contact at all, not even human odours. “Usually you put some panda urine and faeces on panda costumes for the workers to wear when they leave food for the pandas,” says Zhang.
At ‘Panda Valley’, Zhang ‘Papa Panda’ Hemin is focusing on training them to survive out there At this stage it is important that there is no human contact at all, not even human odours. “Usually you put some panda urine and faeces on panda costumes for the workers to wear when they leave food for the pandas,” says Zhang. Source: NationalGeographic/AmiVitale

Pandas are a Vulnerable Species With Less than 2,000 in the Wild

According to the census of 2014, there are only 1,864 giant pandas alive in the wild. It is one of the rarest and most endangered species in the world, thus the giant panda was selected and used as the symbol of the WWF since its formation in 1961.

  • Chinese: ‘big bear-cat’ (大熊猫, dàxióngmāo /dah-sshyong-maow/)
  • Class: mammal (Mammalia)
  • Order: carnivore (carnivora)
  • Family: bear (Ursidae)
  • Genus: cat-foot (Ailuropoda)
  • Species: black-and-white (melanoleuca)
  • Size: up to 0.75 meter tall, 1.5 meters long (2.5 feet tall, 5 feet long)
  • Weight: up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds)
  • Life span: 15 to 20 years in the wild (up to 30 years in captivity)
  • Reproduction: one cub per 2 years; mating occurs in spring and a cub is born in late summer.
  • Here’s one fact that you may not have noticed before. Guess what color their tail is? It’s white!
  • Also see 13 Interesting Facts on Giant Pandas

Source: ChinaHighlights.com

Make an Impact

3 Ways to Help Protect Giant Pandas

Due to the conservation efforts listed above, giant pandas have begun to increase in number in China. You can still help protect them by donating your time or money to a conservation organisation. If this isn't possible for you, protecting your environment and spreading conservation news still helps a lot. Any effort helps protect giant pandas and assure their survival long-term. Click to find out how.