Inexperience to blame for baby panda death

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Chinese experts have warned that infant giant pandas living abroad may be at risk due to a lack of caregiving experience following the death of a newborn cub in Tokyo on July 11.

The mother panda Shin Shin held her new born baby in Japan's Ueno Zoo on July 6, 2012. [Xinhua]

The mother panda Shin Shin held her new born baby in Japan's Ueno Zoo on July 6, 2012. [Xinhua]

"The relatively low survival rate of baby pandas abroad is rooted in inexperience in dealing with emergencies, although we have shared our know-how and methods with other countries," said Zhang Hemin, director of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) of Wolong, located in Southwest China's Sichuan province.

Zhang's comments came after a newborn giant panda died of pneumonia just one week after its birth at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo.

The male baby's birth marked the first panda born at the zoo in about 24 years and was widely celebrated.

Zhang said his center sent an expert to Japan to help the zoo staff handle the pregnancy and delivery.

The Wolong center leased the mother panda Shin Shin and her mate Ri Ri to Japan in February last year for a 10-year stay under a joint research agreement on the endangered species.

The death of the cub in Tokyo is not an isolated case.

In recent years, giant pandas sent abroad from the Wolong center have given 17 births to 24 babies, but only 19 have survived, Zhang said.

In contrast, almost all infant pandas born at the center during the same period survived, according to Zhang.

Statistics from another research center, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, indicated that the survival rate for giant pandas born at the base is nearly 100 percent, while only 85 percent of newborn babies given birth to by pandas leased by the center to the United States, Japan and Spain have survived.

Giant pandas are native only to China, giving the country an advantage in conducting research on assisted mating and caring for infant pandas.

Zhang said foreign countries often expect younger pandas to be leased, which are inexperienced in breeding.

"In that case, attending staff need to be very experienced in offering assistance and handling various emergencies," Zhang said.

He said the cub in Tokyo choked on its mother's milk and then died of ensuing pneumonia.

He said he suspects that the local staff may have failed to spot possible danger or take proper rescue measures.

"The baby panda could have survived if they had more practice," Zhang said.

Wu Kongju, a giant panda expert from the Chengdu research center, said breeding pandas requires proficiency in a variety of detailed procedures.

"Chinese zoologists have spent dozens of years developing related technology and skills," Wu said. "Our foreign peers should try hard to learn as well in order to raise the survival rate of giant pandas abroad."

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