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There is surprisingly little published information about giant panda biology, especially in the life sciences. This poor quantity (and quality) of data has been due primarily to too few individual animals available for study and a traditional hands-off policy towards hands-on research in such a rare and high-profile species. However, recent changes (see Chapter 2) have created important, new opportunities for giant panda investigations. People responsible for ensuring that the species survives now realise that giant pandas living in zoos and breeding centres are a valuable research resource (see Chapter 1). It also has been recognised that this population must be intensively managed if it is truly to support giant pandas that are surviving precariously in nature. The intended result will be an ever-increasing amount of new, scholarly information and sufficient panda numbers to continue educating the public, helping to raise conservation funding, serving as a hedge against extinction, and even as a source of animals for potential reintroductions. However, these laudable goals can only be achieved by first understanding and then rigorously managing the captive population so that it becomes demographically and genetically stable. This, in fact, has become the mantra of Chinese managers of the ex situ population: ‘to develop a self-sustaining, captive population of giant pandas that will assist supporting a long-term, viable population in the wild’ (see Chapter 2).
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