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On the morning of January 11, as Yao Ming opened their cages, six young pandas stepped into their new home in the “Chengdu Panda Valley”, where they will undergo survival training in their natural habitat in their last step before their eventual return to the wild. This release marks the official beginning of the Chengdu Giant Panda Rehabilitation Project, launched by the Chengdu Panda Base and supported throughout by the national Ministry of Forestry.
“I’m honored to be a part of this important conservation effort,” said Yao Ming, “through the hard work and dedication of the experts at the Chengdu Panda Base, the Giant Panda will continue to flourish for generations as a symbol of China and as a symbol of what we can do when we all work together for conservation.”
For over three decades, the Chengdu Panda Base has been devoted to Giant Panda research and breeding, making it an invaluable part of the global Giant Panda conservation effort. Starting with six rescued pandas in the 1980′s the center’s captive population has grown to 108, making the Panda Base home to the largest captive-bred population of Pandas in the world.
As the number of pandas has steadily increased, the Panda Base has carefully planned the transition of pandas into Chengdu Panda Valley – a controlled natural environment, which will allow the pandas to steadily acclimatize and eventually rejoin their counterparts in the wild.
In order to find the best “candidates” for this morning’s first release, experts spent one year carefully examining individual pandas based on criteria such as age, health and genetic background, personality, and ability to socialize within their community. Twin brothers, Xingrong and Xingya, together with Gongzai (the inspiration for the main character in “Kung Fu Panda”), Yingying, Zhizhi, and Qiqi were chosen as the pioneers of this rehabilitation training.
“The main goal of this project is to ensure the sustainable growth of the Giant Panda population; we hope that soon they will be able to reproduce sustainably in the wild without the help of human breeders. We do not want to keep them in captivity forever; they need to return to nature, to their natural home.” commented Dr. Zhang Zhihe, Director of the Chengdu Panda Base.
Giant Pandas once flourished in the Sichuan Mountains surrounding Chengdu where boundless bamboo forests supported their grazing lifestyle. The connection of the Panda with Chengdu has made it a symbol of the city and has fostered a deep commitment from the community to their conservation. The Chengdu government has given full backing to the conservation efforts and has made the Panda Rehabilitation Project one of the hallmark elements of their program to develop Chengdu as a world-class Garden City.