The giant panda is one of the national treasures of China. Many factors, related primarily to increased human activity, have caused a marked decline and geographic fragmentation of the wild population. To preserve this endangered species, the Chinese government, in partnership with many nongovernmental organisations (inside and outside China), has invested significant human and material resources to benefit in situ conservation. These collective efforts have resulted in the establishment of more than 40 nature reserves in southwest China in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.
Giant pandas have been sporadically maintained in captivity since the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 226) (see Chapter 1). However, it was not until the 1940s that there was serious interest in exhibiting the species in China. It took more than 20 years of giant panda husbandry experience to produce the first cub in captivity, at the Beijing Zoo in 1963. Much progress has been made in the subsequent years in understanding basic giant panda biology and making it possible for the species to reproduce consistently in captivity. This chapter reviews the brief history and significance of ex situ breeding efforts for the giant panda.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EX SITU BREEDING PROGRAMMES FOR THE GIANT PANDA
The giant panda is particularly vulnerable to external pressures, in part because of an inherently slow rate of reproduction.