Home / China / Local News Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Center helps pandas propagate
Adjust font size:

Bamboo shoot is the favorite food of panda. 

Many overseas visitors come to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, not because of the sights of historical importance or scenic spots.

They just come to see giant pandas at the Chengdu Research Center, the only panda breeding center in the world within the borders of a metropolis.

With 67 pandas, it is the world's largest panda research institution, the largest artificial breeding center and repository of world's largest panda sperm bank.

The first panda conceived through artificial insemination was born at the center, as were the first captive baby panda twins. It was also the first place to conduct panda paternity tests.

Known for its protection of biodiversity, the center owes many of its landmark achievements to the hard work of its 44-year-old chief Zhang Zhihe and his colleagues.

Zhang, who was born into a farmer's family in the Daba Mountains in Sichuan, came to Chengdu in 1989 to research pandas after receiving his master's degree from the Beijing Agricultural College.

Just out of the college laboratory, he was worried about what he found - the backward state of the country's panda breeding and research.

"The panda is the flagship species for biodiversity protection. Whether we can do a good job in protecting the panda is an important sign of protecting the environment," Zhang said.

With that belief, in 1994 Zhang became the first to ask departments in Sichuan and the State for funds to start a top international-standards laboratory. He also suggested developing embryo engineering technology to promote artificial breeding. His proposals won support and 3 million yuan in research funding.

Pandas are notoriously challenging to breed - it is difficult to get pandas to mate, and then to conceive, and hard for panda cubs to survive.

To solve the three problems, Zhang visited many renowned institutions of higher learning in the country to enroll talent and understand the latest developments in embryonic engineering.

Zhang spent all the funds establishing the laboratory and hiring needed talent. He himself led a frugal life because funds were short.

He always purchased a hard seat ticket when he took a train on business. He once had to stand on the train for 36 hours to reach Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, because no seats were available.

In May 1994, a thief stole all his money when Zhang, who did not have a hard seat ticket, was sleeping on the floor of a train to Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.

"The thief must have been disappointed, for all I had in my wallet was 152.7 yuan," he said with a smile.

Under very difficult circumstances, the center began artificial insemination research, gene cloning and other major research projects, and made a series of breakthroughs.

As a result of ultra-low temperature refrigeration, the quality of frozen semen greatly improved with its motility - the ability move and swim - rising by nearly 30 percent.

Researchers at the center can now identify a panda's father by using a cotton swab to gather DNA.

Captive breeding is an important way to protect pandas. But because the number of captive male pandas is small, researchers allow one male to mate with many females. Many females are also artificially inseminated.

"It is difficult to determine the relationship between future generations of giant pandas and their fathers and that is likely to cause inbreeding and a decline in population," Zhang said.

The worldwide application of Zhang's research has played an important role in improving the quality of the panda population.

(China Daily August 2,2008)


Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read
Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>
- Newly-born Giant Panda Twins in Chengdu
- Panda Town Seen Keeping Visitors in Chengdu
- Chengdu to outlaw abuse of panda images
- Chengdu Offers Cash for Panda Creations
Most Viewed >>
- Fish 'swimming' in Water Cube
- DM: China to pursue peaceful development
- China to broadcast solar eclipse live on Internet
- Olympic homestay
- Beijing subway halts for 15 minutes after woman jumps