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Every morning, with the dawn light shimmering on their patchy coats the young residents of a panda breeding centre in southwestern China shred their favourite breakfast—bamboo. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was set up in 1987 when the animals were considered to be under increasing threat of extinction—a catastrophic scenario that seems to have been avoided for now. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last week reclassified the giant panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on its "Red List" of threatened species. There were 1,864 adult giant pandas in the wild in China in 2014, a 17 percent increase in 10 years, according to the IUCN. "It is a positive message, it's not all gloom and doom," said James Ayala, a researcher at the base, in Sichuan province. "But I still think it is too early to consider it a true success... we're not in the clear yet. "It's like if your great grandma gets out of intensive care, you don't celebrate, she's still very old, very weak, and the chance of seeing her back in care is very likely." The IUCN's general criteria are less applicable to pandas, he said, as their wholly bamboo diet means their survival is totally dependent on habitat, and climate change poses a huge threat. Zhang Hemin, of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), also in Sichuan, called the IUCN's reclassification "premature". The wild giant panda population is split into 33 different groups, 18 of them consisting of fewer than a dozen pandas, leaving them at "high risk of collapse", according to Zhang. Their separation also raises the risks of inbreeding, hence the importance of captive breeding programmes, which often use artificial insemination—pandas are renowned for their sexual apathy. Known as Papa Panda in China, Zhang runs an ultra-modern "panda hospital", home to Pan Pan, who at 31—equivalent to 100 in human years—is regarded as the oldest panda living in captivity and has sired at least 130 descendants. China has around 420 pandas in captivity, according to official figures, and the Chengdu Research Base has seen more than 200 births in total, with over 20 so far this year. Some of the cubs are then sent on to zoos overseas—a lucrative earner for authorities, who rent the animals out rather than giving them away. "A target goal for us will be to have a large number of captive pandas to maintain genetic diversity so we could release them into the wild," Ayala said. Beforehand, the animals are trained to recognise predators and socialise with their peers, but he acknowledged only seven to 10 pandas have been freed in a decade, saying the process is fraught with difficulty. The animals raised in captivity "aren't ready to be released", said Yang Fuqiang, senior advisor at environmental NGO the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding: "We are far from understanding the behaviour and characteristics of pandas." Moreover their bamboo forest habitat shrank dramatically during the last century as China developed economically. Bamboo reserves were first established in China only in 1992, and there are now 67, protecting nearly 70 percent of the 1.4 million hectares of wild bamboo forest, according to the Forestry Administration. But with global warming, more than a third of bamboo forests could disappear within 80 years, the IUCN warns. The plant itself can be a risk factor, with most of its species having a life cycle that sees them flowering and dying off every 20 to 40 years —and they can take years to start regrowing. "Each time this happens, the population is extremely vulnerable because the pandas can't find any food," said Ayala. The Chengdu facility was itself set up after around 250 giant pandas starved to death in the mountains of Sichuan in the 1970s and 80s, when he said that "researchers found pandas emaciated, walking like zombies". "The priority should always be to focus on improving the habitat for the wild animals and expand it," said Ayala. "If we don't do this, then there is no point in conserving the giant panda." Explore further: Largest genetic survey to date shows major success of giant panda breeding programs

News Article | September 7, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

China objects to the decision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to take out giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) from the endangered species list. The IUCN Red List is considered the most comprehensive inventory of plants and animals at the global level. In the new update, the IUCN has reclassified giant pandas' status in the Red List from "endangered" to "vulnerable." The latest report of IUCN noted that there were 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, compared to 1,600, which was the population in 2004. That shows a 17 percent growth in the giant panda numbers in the wild. The Switzerland-based body then commended China's efforts at conservation and in contributing to the eventual increase of the panda population. It made special mention of China's measures such as tight regulations against poaching and adding new forest reserves for housing giant pandas. Despite the praises, China was not amused and criticized the IUCN reclassification as a setback and asserted that the black-and-white pandas continue to be "endangered." "If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the population and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements could be quickly lost," China's State Forestry Administration said. The official Xinhua news agency said IUCN move was a hasty step and quoted Zhang Hemin, of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. "A severely fragmented natural habitat still threatens the lives of pandas; genetic transfer between different populations will improve, but is still not satisfactory," Zhang said. He expressed fear that by lowering the guard on conservation efforts, protection work will suffer and the panda population as well as their habitat will face "irreversible losses." China's reasoning is that the wild giant pandas are facing the threat of diminishing genetic diversity. They are split into 33 isolated groups and some group had only fewer than 10 members. According to Zhang, as many as 18 sub-populations are facing "a high risk of collapse." China's assessment is that the giant panda species could be called less endangered only when the wild population grows steadily without adding captive-bred pandas. Marc Brody, senior adviser for conservation at the China's Wolong reserve also expressed doubts over the wisdom of IUCN's review of the pandas' status. "It is too early to conclude that pandas are actually increasing in the wild," Brody said at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. He added that no justifiable reason is in sight to downgrade the listing from endangered to "threatened." Meanwhile, the ABC from Australia said the good news for pandas may not last as a warming planet from excessive fossil fuel burning may wipe out one-third of the pandas' bamboo habitat in the coming decades. "The concern now is that although the population has slowly increased — and it is still very small — several models predict a reduction of the extent of bamboo forests in China in the coming decades due to climate change," Carlo Rondinini, a mammal assessment coordinator at the Sapienza University of Rome, told reporters. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

News Article | November 7, 2015
Site: www.techtimes.com

Chinese scientists who studied the language of giant pandas at a conservation center in the Sichuan province were able to decipher 13 different vocalizations. Researchers found that male giant pandas make 'baa' sounds like a sheep when wooing mate. The female giant pandas then respond by making bird-like sounds (chirping) when they're interested. Baby pandas (cubs) make 'wow-wow' sounds when they're sad. When they're hungry, the make 'gee-gee' sounds to prompt their mothers into action. Cubs also say 'coo-coo' which translate to 'nice' in human language. The research team recorded the giant pandas' vocalizations in various scenarios which included nursing the cubs, fighting and eating to analyze the voiceprints. "Trust me - our researchers were so confused when we began the project, they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep," said China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda  head Zhang Hemin, who lead the study. The research team has been analyzing panda linguistics since 2010. Panda cubs learn to bark, shout, chirp, and squeak to express what they want. The researchers found that adult giant pandas are typically unsocial animals, making their mothers the only language teacher they ever had. When a mother panda won't stop making bird-like sounds (chirping), she could be worried about her cubs. Like a dog, she barks when a stranger goes near her babies. In general, barking can be translated as "get out of my place." Understanding how giant pandas communicate can be valuable in their conservation, especially in their natural habitat in the wild. Findings coupled with conservation efforts will benefit future generations. Looking forward, the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda is looking into the creation of a "panda translator" using a voice-recognition software. The 2014 census of the World Wildlife Fund said there are 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild, majority of which are found in Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces in China. Towards the end of 2013, there were 375 giant pandas living in conservation centers or zoos around the world. Two hundred captive pandas are living at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. Saving giant pandas from the brink of extinction have reached a tipping point. On the other side of the world, scientists gear up to clone one male and one female panda at the Roslin Embryology, a biotechnology firm at Edinburgh Science Triangle in the United Kingdom (UK). Tian Tian and Yang Guang, who live in the 82-acre Edinburgh Zoo, are last two giant pandas left in the UK. The team who successfully cloned Dolly the sheep will also be cloning the two pandas.

Zhou Z.,Sichuan Agricultural University | Zhou X.,Sichuan Agricultural University | Zhong Z.,Sichuan Agricultural University | Wang C.,the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda | And 11 more authors.
World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology | Year: 2014

Bacillus group is a prevalent community of Giant Panda’s intestinal flora, and plays a significant role in the field of biological control of pathogens. To understand the diversity of Bacillus group from the Giant Panda intestine and their functions in maintaining the balance of the intestinal microflora of Giant Panda, this study isolated a significant number of strains of Bacillus spp. from the feces of Giant Panda, compared the inhibitory effects of these strains on three common enteric pathogens, investigated the distributions of six universal antimicrobial genes (ituA, hag, tasA, sfp, spaS and mrsA) found within the Bacillus group by PCR, and analyzed the characterization of antimicrobial gene distributions in these strains using statistical methods. The results suggest that 34 strains of Bacillus spp. were isolated which has not previously been detected at such a scale, these Bacillus strains could be classified into five categories as well as an external strain by 16S rRNA; Most of Bacillus strains are able to inhibit enteric pathogens, and the antimicrobial abilities may be correlated to their categories of 16S rRNA; The detection rates of six common antimicrobial genes are between 20.58 %(7/34) and 79.41 %(27/34), and genes distribute in three clusters in these strains. We found that the antimicrobial abilities of Bacillus strains can be one of the mechanisms by which Giant Panda maintains its intestinal microflora balance, and may be correlated to their phylogeny. © 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.

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