1st Panda Released
for National Geographic News
April 28, 2006
With two barks and a charge at a film crew, Xiang Xiang the panda today became the first captive-born giant panda to be released into the wild.
The four-year-old male panda was set free in the bamboo-covered mountains of Sichuan Province in southwest Chinaâ��more than 40 years after the first captive-bred giant panda was born.
Xiang Xiang, whose name means lucky or auspicious, has been fitted with a collar carrying a satellite tracking device so researchers can keep tabs on his whereabouts.
On his release this morning the panda barked twice like an angry dog and ran at a National Geographic Society film crew before quickly vanishing into the forest, according to eyewitness reports.
Conservationists hope this pioneer panda will mark the start of a program to reintroduce one of the world's best loved endangered animals into its native habitat.
The program could eventually double China's wild panda population, researchers say.
The 176-pound (80-kilogram) male was hand-picked for the mission, being trained for a new life as a wild panda from the age of two.
Xiang Xiang was raised at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, or Panda Center, in the Wolong Nature Reserve.
The Panda Center houses more than a hundred pandasâ��more than half the total number of captive pandas worldwide. Only about 1,600 giant pandas are still left in the wild, conservationists say.
Zhang Hemin, who is head of the breeding facility, says Xiang Xiang's habitat training began in a five-acre (two-hectare) open enclosure.
The giant panda was later transferred to an area ten times bigger that simulated the animal's natural habitatâ��including plenty of bamboo as a food source. More