Panda Can Survive Without Intervention, Specialist Says

China's "father of giant pandas" has said that the endangered animal has a better chance for survival if left to breed on its own in the wild and high-tech science should not be applied to saving the population.

"The giant panda possesses normal reproductive capabilities with a hope of lasting propagation and does not need cloning," said Pan Wenshi, China's most well-known giant panda specialist and also a professor at the prestigious Peking University.

There are about 1,000 of the family in the wild, most living on the mountains in west China.

Most animal experts believe that the species faces extinction because of the creatures' poor reproductive capability.

However, Prof. Pan, who has led research teams to track down giant pandas in the Qinling Ranges in west China for 13 years, said that the animals can increase their population without any help from man.

"From the point of evolution of the species, the shrinking distribution of the giant panda and a drop in the number of the endangered animals that has occurred since the mid-20th century is just a short-term and normal reflection in the long-term evolution of giant pandas," Pan said.

According to Pan, over the past 10 years, the population of the giant pandas has been increasing at an annual rate of 4.1 percent -- even higher than that of human beings.

Pan's team has also discovered that DNA diversity of the giant pandas in the Qinling Ranges has not been degraded due to inbreeding, which is common among the species.

Pan, 64, who has been engaged in scientific research and field inspections into wildlife including giant pandas and white-headed leaf monkeys, has won numerous awards and recognition for his work in wildlife protection. He is a recipient of the Paul Getty Prize, the highest prize given by the World Wildlife Fund.

Pan and other researchers of his team have put radio collars on giant pandas to help gather information about their habitats, frequency of activities, seasonal migration, mating and food gathering habits. They also conducted ground investigations and studied behavior with the help of satellite remote sensing.

Geological records show that giant pandas used to be widely distributed in the Pearl, Yangtze and Yellow river valleys. Fossil records also prove that giant pandas used to roam in northern Vietnam, northern Thailand and eastern Myanmar. In the 19th century and even until the early 20th century, giant pandas were spotted in mountainous regions bordering central China'sHubei and Hunan provinces and southwest China's Sichuan Province. But starting from the mid-20th century, giant pandas could only be found in the mountains in west China.

Pan attributed the their shrinking population to increased human activities.

Pan's theory about the long-term survival of giant pandas is echoed by Zhang Hemin, head of China Giant Pandas Protection Center at Wolong, Sichuan Province, and Zhang Guiquan, another giant panda research fellow with the same center. Both Zhangs said the impact of human beings on nature is the main cause of the population decline of the giant panda.

However, Li Guanghan, head of Chengdu Research Center for Propagation of Giant Pandas in southwest China's Sichuan Province, challenged Pan's view, saying inbreeding among giant pandas living in the wild has become a serious problem.

But all giant pandas specialists agree that cloning of giant pandas will do more harm than good in preserving giant pandas as a species.

Cloning of giant pandas neither preserves their diversity nor the quality of their genes and will be of no significance to their conservation, they insisted.

They explained that cloning just creates simple duplicating of individual animals and is of no value for conserving a species, as lasting propagation of a species mostly depends on hereditary diversity.

In 1999, a Chinese research team announced they had cultivated a giant panda embryo by injecting a strand of DNA from a giant panda into a rabbit.

To date, China has built 27 giant panda nature reserves, where the animals are under top-level state protection.

(People's Daily 09/26/2001)

In This Series

A Giant Panda with Most Babies

Fuzhou Holds Panda Festival

Another Giant Panda Population Found in Sichuan

Returning Giant Pandas to Nature

Third Pair of Panda Twins Born in China

Panda's Hometown Lures Tourists, Investors With Wonders


“Snow White” Lost in the Woods

Pregnant Giant Panda Still Missing

First Artificially-bred Twin Panda to Give Birth

More Baby Pandas Expected

Panda Number Increases


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