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China Releases Panda Into the Wild

April 28, 2006

BEIJING (AP) _ China on Friday released a panda bred in captivity into the wild _ a first for the country, the government said.

Xiang Xiang, a 4-year-old male raised at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in Sichuan province, was set free into the forests around the center, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

It is the first time a panda raised in captivity has been released in China, Xinhua said. Xiang Xiang will be tracked by a global positioning device attached to a collar.

The 176-pound bear was chosen because he is ``very strong and healthy,″ Xinhua said. He has been given a number of inoculations and a full physical checkup, it said.

Xiang Xiang, whose name means auspicious, began training in 2003 and has learned how to build a den, forage for food and mark his territory, experts at Wolong have said. He has also developed defensive skills like howling and biting.

His training began in a 215,000-square-foot open-air facility and he was later transferred to an area 10 times the size to simulate a natural habitat.

Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong center, said they chose to release him in late April because that’s when his favorite food, bamboo shoots, are sprouting, making it easier for him to survive.

There are only about 1,600 wild pandas in the mountain forests of central China _ the only place in the world they are found _ and more than 180 live in captivity.

Pandas are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low reproduction rate. Females in the wild normally have a cub once every two to three years.

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