For some critically endangered species, reintroduction is the ultimate goal of captive-breeding programs. While some species have greatly benefited from reintroduction programs, there are inherent challenges associated with developing a protocol that has a good chance of success. As we all know, the giant panda is critically endangered, and our Chinese colleagues are developing a reintroduction program for the species. Months ago, Su Lin was identified as a potential participant in this program. While not slated to be reintroduced to the wild, Su Lin was chosen to live in a large, naturalistic enclosure with the hope that she would give birth, raise her cub to about 18 months of age with minimal human intervention, and then her cub might have eventually been released. For all of us who’ve followed the panda conservation program over the years, this was a great honor and reflected our pride in Bai Yun and Gao Gao’s San Diego Zoo-born offspring.
We have worked closely with our colleagues in Wolong for over 15 years. In that time we have learned so much, and our collaborative, science-based conservation program has become a model for other species. I think I speak for everyone on the Panda Team when I say that we have tremendous respect for our colleagues in Wolong and tremendous confidence in the care and effort they have put into this amazing program.
Recently we learned that Su Lin would be heading back to the breeding base at Bi Feng Xia with her cub. While we were disappointed that this cub, Bai Yun and Gao Gao’s descendent, would not be a candidate for reintroduction, we were confident that the right decision was made. While Su Lin’s new status as a mother made her a good candidate for this program, her inexperience was evident, and the staff at Wolong decided that it was best for both Mom and cub to be returned to Bi Feng Xia base.
Ultimately, we know that the goal that we all share is that of giant panda conservation. And luckily, for those of us who feel a connection to the individual pandas that we’ve gotten to know, this lofty goal includes taking the best care possible of each and every panda in our collective care.
Megan Owen is a conservation program specialist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Getting Ready for Research.