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:
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.”
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.
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.