The world's first giant panda to receive wilderness training has adapted well to life in a secluded bamboo forest in southwest China.
Xiang Xiang was born in captivity in 2001 and the experiment will likely result in it being released into the wild, a senior panda researcher said.
Xiang Xiang now lives in a 20,000-square-meter compound in a mountainous area at Wolong Virgin Forest Reserve in Sichuan Province.
China has experimented with wilderness training for giant pandas born in captivity in the hope they will one day thrive in the wild.
Xiang Xiang, which means "auspicious" in Chinese, looks strong. After more than a year of training, Xiang Xiang has learned to live on its own and has developed awareness of its territory. Xiang Xiang even tries to drive away anyone who enters its territory by growling or biting just as a wild giant panda would do.
"The attention to his surroundings indicates Xiang Xiang has a good chance to survive in the wild," said Liu Bin, a zoologist who raised Xiang Xiang at the Wolong center.
Xiang Xiang now weighs more than 100 kilograms. It has gained 20 kilograms since the wilderness training began.
"It's marvelous that Xiang Xiang has even learned where to sleep," Liu said. "This may help increase its ability to deal with problems in the wild including finding food."
Early in the wildlife training, Xiang Xiang didn't know how to find food, Liu said.
"We trained Xiangxiang to end his dependence on humans for food," he said. "Now Xiang Xiang is good at choosing the right food in different seasons. It also has the ability to choose the best tasting food."
Chinese zoologists have decided to release Xiang Xiang into the wild at the end of this year. He will be the first giant panda to be fully released in the ongoing giant panda recovery project.
The project, with an estimated cost of about 300 million yuan (US$37.5 million), focuses on teaching giant pandas to live in the wild before releasing them back to nature.
Xiang Xiang was first put in a wilderness training center in 2003. It was later transferred to the larger and more-wild 20,000-square meter compound that more closely mimics a natural environment. The project is managed by the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center.
The center has bred 57 panda cubs since 1991, 45 of which have survived. More than 160 giant pandas now live in captivity and 1,590 live in the wild.
(XInhua News Agency March 6, 2006)