The first panda born in captivity and released in the wild was found dead on February 19 in the forests of Sichuan province.
According to officials, the giant panda likely fell from a high place, perhaps a tree as it was being chased by other wild pandas.
“We are all sad about Xiang Xiang, but it doesn’t mean the project has failed,” said Zhang Hemin, the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center head. “The lessons we have learnt from what happened to Xiang Xiang will help us adapt and improve the project.”
The panda was released from Wolong in April 2006, surviving less than a year in the wild after three years of training and preparation where he learned to howl, bite, forage for food, build a den, and other survival essentials.
Unfortunately he didn’t seem to mix well with other wild pandas, and subsequently failed to survive amongst them.
“We chose Xiang Xiang because we thought that a strong male panda would have a better chance of surviving in the harsh natural environment,” Li was quoted as saying. “But the other male pandas clearly saw Xiang Xiang as a threat. Next time we will choose a female panda.”
Experts estimate that there are only about 1,600 wild pandas in the world, which all live in the mountain forests of central China, along with 180 other pandas living in captivity.
Xiang Xiang has been buried at the base of a mountain nearby the research center.
Photo courtesy LI WEI / CHINA FOTO PRESS / GAMMA