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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Boa Boa, the panda leaves Smithsonian for Chengdu,China

The Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute began as the dream of William Temple Hornaday, chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian.  During a trip to the western United States in 1887, he was shocked and troubled by what he didn’t find—large herds of American bison. The species, which once roamed the American West by the millions, was reduced to a few hundred animals. The bison’s near extinction sparked Hornaday’s crusade to save it and other endangered species from disappearing completely. He became the first head of the Department of Living Animals at the Smithsonian later that year, and brought 15 North American species to live on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai once called Bao Bao the second Chinese ambassador in Washington.  That panda is in news ! The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a bear native to south central China.  Easily recognizable by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body, its  diet is over 99% bamboo. The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu.

A few months ago, the World’s oldest panda in captivity was put down at the Hong Kong theme park where she lived, because her health had deteriorated. Ocean Park stated that a veterinarian euthanised 38-year-old Jia Jia to prevent further suffering and for ethical reasons. Guinness World Records recognised Jia Jia as the oldest giant panda to live in captivity. The average lifespan for a panda in the wild is 18 to 20 years, while in captivity it is 30, according to Guinness. Born in the wild, Jia Jia was taken at a wildlife reserve’s breeding centre in Sichuan province, central China, in 1980, when she was about two. Jia Jia and another panda, An An, were given to Hong Kong as a gift from Beijing in 1999, on the second anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China.

This post is more about ‘bao bao’, a three-year-old giant panda who has called the Smithsonian’s national zoo in Washington home since her birth in 2013,  departing from Dulles airport this afternoon on a one-way trip to China to join a panda breeding program.  China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai was at the zoo to receive the panda, who will travel with a keeper and veterinarian for company on the 16-hour nonstop flight to Chengdu. Bao Bao’s journey began in a crate loaded onto a Fedex truck also travels with a supply of snacks including 55lbs (25kg) of bamboo, 5lbs (2kg) of apples and 2lbs (1kg) of sweet potatoes.

Bao Bao, whose personality is described as “very independent”, like a domestic cat, was then loaded aboard a specially chartered FedEx plane – the “Panda Express”– in a large box marked “one panda”. The plane departed around 2pm, an event covered on live TV and on the zoo’s Facebook page. “Most of the flight, we hope she’s going to eat,” panda keeper and travel companion Marty Dearie told the Associated Press. Dearie added that pandas like to spend 13-16 hours a day eating. The national zoo explained that Bao Bao is traveling now because it’s better for pandas to travel in the winter months, when it is cool.

The cub departed Tuesday on a 16-hour, nonstop flight from Dulles International Airport to Chengdu, China.  – media reports suggests that it has landed in China about a couple of hours back [22.02.17 @ 07.30 IST].  Bao Bao will eventually join a panda breeding program. As part of the National Zoo’s cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the zoo move must move back to China by the time they turn 4 years old. Bao Bao will turn 4 on Aug. 23, 2017.  The return of  Bao Bao continues a tradition that began when China gave the national zoo a pair of pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, following Richard Nixon’s historic trip to the country in 1972. The pair had five cubs, but none survived. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are the zoo’s second panda pair. Under the terms of the agreement, the US pays China $10m for a renewable 10-year lease on the couple.

Bao Bao, who currently weighs around 200lbs (90kg), has been a central attraction at the national zoo since her birth in August 2013. Her departure leaves the zoo with three remaining pandas. Zoo director Dennis Kelly called Bao Bao’s departure a “really bittersweet day” for the institution. “While it represents a huge success, we’ve become so fond of Bao Bao,” he told the Washington Post. “We’re going to miss her so much.”

A total of four US zoos have pandas on loan from China. In addition to Bao Bao, the US sent two female twin pandas, Mei Lun and Mei Huan, from Atlanta zoo to China in November last year. That leaves a dozen pandas remaining in the US: four in Atlanta, three in Washington, three in San Diego and two in Memphis.

But – there would always be difference of opinion on captive breeding programmes rather than protecting them in the wild.  A zoo in northern Japan has culled 57 of its snow monkeys by lethal injection after discovering they carried the genes of an "invasive alien species". Takagoyama Nature Zoo in Chiba said DNA testing showed the monkeys had been crossbred with the rhesus macaque. The non-indigenous rhesus macaque is banned under Japanese law. A local official said they had to be killed to protect the native environment.

Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, are native to Japan and are one of the country's major tourist attractions. Japan prohibits the possession and transport of invasive species, including crossbreeds. An official from the Office for Alien Species Management, part of the country's environment ministry, told local media that the culling was unavoidable because there were fears they might escape and reproduce in the wild.  Another  spokesman for conservation group WWF Japan told AFP news agency that invasive species cause problems "because they get mixed in with indigenous animals and threaten the natural environment and ecosystem".

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

22nd Feb 2017.

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