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Archive for the ‘Captive Breeding’ Category

Sad stories?

I think most people would agree that the panda ranks high up there in the cuteness meter. Big, cuddly, and sweet, the panda’s plight for survival has attracted universal appeal and it has even become the logo of international conservation group WWF.

Which is why seeing this article naturally did not exactly make my day:

Panda released into wild found dead

The five-year-old panda “Xiang Xiang” (a name which means auspicious or lucky) in April 2006 became the first captive-bred panda released into the wild. He survived for less than a year, and was found dead on February 19. What makes the story doubly sad and ironic was that Xiang Xiang most likely died from injuries sustained while defending himself from other wild pandas, who might have been threatened by the presence of another male in their territory.

“Xiang Xiang died of serious internal injuries in the left side of his chest and stomach by falling from a high place,” Heng Yi, an official from the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in Sichuan, said in a telephone interview.

“The scratches and other minor injuries caused by other wild pandas were found on his body,” he said. “So Xiang Xiang may have fallen from trees when being chased by those pandas.”

xiang-xiang.jpg

It took the Chinese authorities two months before they announced the panda’s death, supposedly because of “the need for a full investigation” (see CCTV site for info and more photos). Considering that it’s such a high-profile setback, this reluctance of the Chinese authorities to disclose the news really comes as no surprise.

A similar fate was suffered a couple of years ago by the first captive-bred Philippine Eagle that was released in the wild. “Kabayan” managed to survive for nine months at the PNOC reserve in Mt. Apo before it apparently made the fatal error of perching on an electric post, and was electrocuted.

kabayan4.jpg

I can only imagine the feelings of those people who were directly involved in taking care of Xiang Xiang and Kabayan.

In her previous post, Em discussed the country’s efforts at breeding its most threatened species. High-profile “failures” such as the Kabayan incident notwithstanding, some measure of success have been achieved, not only in the breeding program themselves but in the value addition that they deliver in terms of heightening awareness on these threatened species and drawing much-needed support. What’s clear is that breeding should be complemented by parallel efforts at habitat restoration and awareness-raising.

Both the Chinese and Filipino scientists acknowledge that the deaths of Xiang Xiang and Kabayan are definitely disheartening, but have also yielded valuable lessons to guide future steps. So while the Chinese were understandably reluctant to publicize Xiang Xiang’s death, maybe we can still glean messages of hope from this whole exercise, enough to encourage us to go on convinced that it’s really not all in vain.

Photos from www.cctv.com and www.philippineeagle.org.

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When people ask me what I do, my first answer would be: “I’m a veterinarian”.

After hearing this answer, they might begin to try and squeeze a free consultation out of me by saying “I have a dog with a problem…” I would then explain that I’m not that kind of veterinarian, as many of the things I learned at vet school have since been unlearned in the name of conservation.

The principles of animal production taught us that low-performing animals deserve the cleaver and high producers (i.e. those animals that produce a lot of offspring) should be kept. It is the other way around in conservation breeding: highly represented genes become least priority. The object is to have as much genetic diversity as possible and this can only be achieved by having all the animals in your collection ‘represented’ by their offspring.

What then, is the purpose of captive breeding? It is considered by many as one of the most expensive and labour-intensive methods available for conservation. For this, it is not very popular among field biologists. It takes away wildlife from their natural habitat, enabling them to develop behaviours that are ‘unnatural’. For some, it is synonymous to domestication, perhaps even for the pet trade. For others, it is an important supplement to habitat restoration and protection. In the eyes of many, there is a fine line between breeding for (commercial) production, and breeding for conservation, and this line has been manipulated to serve the purpose of one or the other. Funny, it sounds almost immoral.

The Philippine spotted deer Cervus alfredi conservation programme was initiated during the late 80’s after field biologists found out that the animal has been extirpated over much of its range. This animal, unique to the West Visayas (or Negros-Panay) Faunal Region, can now only be found in two of the five islands in which it formerly occurred. The same is true for the Visayan Warty Pig Sus cebifrons, which shares the same habitat and range as the Philippine spotted deer. For this, another conservation programme was initiated for the ill-fated pig. These programmes comprised of a series of approaches, including, but not limited to, the proposal of new protected areas that cover most of the animal’s existing strongholds; habitat restoration; education and awareness; training of relevant personnel; institutional capacity building; and conservation breeding. Three Biodiversity Conservation Centers were put up not only to hold the conservation breeding programmes, but also to serve as operation, training and education hubs for conservationists working in the area. These centres also serve as reservoirs of genetic material. For instance, one of the major threats of the Visayan warty pig, and indeed, many of its relatives in the Philippines, is genetic contamination. This threat may be considered grave because of its cryptic and nearly irreversible nature. Domestic pigs owned by people living at the forest edges have mated with their wild counterparts, effectively “contaminating” their DNA. Evidences of this threat have been recorded and some of these hybrids have been caught in the wild and misidentified as pure breeds. Up to this day, nobody knows how many hybrids there are in the wild. They continue to thrive and mate and spread their genes among our critically endangered pigs.

Helen’s Piglets [Marloes van Delft 2004]

This initiative and others similar to it lead to Memoranda of Agreement between the Philippine’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and concerned international and local institutional partners. These paved the way for the captive breeding of the Philippine spotted deer and the Negros bleeding-heart pigeon at the Silliman University – Center for Tropical Conservation Studies (SU-CenTrop) in Dumaguete City; the Visayan warty pig, Panay bushy-tailed cloudrat, Visayan writhed-billed hornbill and the Blue-headed raquet-tailed parrot at the Mari-it Conservation Park at the West Visayas State University College of Agriculture and Forestry in Iloilo; and the Visayan tarictic hornbill and the Philippine eagle-owl at the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Biodiversity Conservation Center (NFEFI-BCC) in Bacolod City. All of these events are world’s firsts and have contributed not only to the increase in individual species numbers, but also served to renew commitments of partner institutions to Philippine conservation.

Ronnie’s Hearts [Lou Jean Cerial - April 2007]

The animals played their role well as educators and ambassadors: educators for local and international biologists and conservationists who will otherwise have no idea about each of the species breeding behaviours (knowledge of which, is invaluable for on-site conservation of each of the species); and ambassadors for Filipinos who have not encountered them in books, television and other forms of education available to us. Nothing beats encountering the animal in the flesh, unless of course one encounters them in the wild.

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