A panda cub at the Wolong conservation center in China's Sichuan province. Photo: Xinhua
Pandas in zoos worldwide are “on loan” from China and a significant source of income as well as diplomatic power. Photo: Xinhua

The growing population of giant pandas in Chinese zoos and breeding centers has surpassed the 500 mark for first time. Thanks to decades of conservation effort, experts at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in west China’s Sichuan province say the species no longer faces the threat of extinction 

Xinhua also quoted an official with the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda under the State Forestry and Grassland Administrations as saying that the number of giant pandas in captivity had risen steadily to 518, and that this number was adequate to “preserve 90% of genetic diversity of the species for 200 years”.

A 2007 report showed 239 pandas lived in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country.

Pandas are well looked after as one of China’s living treasures. With the species no longer facing extinction, some of them must go back to the wild to regain their abilities to survive and to mate. Photos: Xinhua

This has to be good news for Chinese diplomacy as pandas are usually sent overseas as diplomatic gifts.

The official added that the center had also developed a giant panda gene pool as well as an advanced sperm and stem cell bank, set up to aid artificial insemination in the breeding of panda cubs.

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reclassified the status of the species from “endangered” to “vulnerable”.

But pampering these fluffy big bears in zoos, habitats and breeding centers is of course not the ultimate goal. The center and its key facility in Wolong have begun releasing pandas back to the wild, with the hope that pandas can regain their ability to mate, to increase the genetic diversity of the captive stock.

In August 2017, female giant panda Cao Cao gave birth at a semi-wild breeding base in Sichuan. She reportedly got pregnant after being freed to the woods during her period of oestrus in March that year.

Cao Cao is a prolific mother who also gave birth to twins this year, with the male cub weighing 215 grams and his younger sister weighing 84 grams.

At birth, a cub typically weighs 100 to 200 grams and measures 15 to 17 centimeters long.

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