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Category: Pandas

China announces plans to train captive giant pandas for life in the wild

Giant pandas

BEIJING — China plans to build a center where giant pandas born in captivity will be trained to survive in the wild, state media reported Thursday.

The $8.8-million center will be in Sichuan province's Dujiangyan city, according to Zhang Zhihe, the head of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The facility is expected to house three to five giant pandas when it is completed within five years. The center will include 21.5 acres of an experimental zone, along with 2,800 acres of woodlands, Zhang said.

Groundbreaking for the new center starts at the end of the month, Xinhua said.

Giant pandas are among the world's most endangered species. Some 1,600 pandas live in the wild, while more than 300 pandas are raised in captivity in China.

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Giant panda Mei Xiang isn't pregnant after all, says National Zoo


WASHINGTON — The National Zoo says its female giant panda is not pregnant after all.

The zoo says a final ultrasound and hormone analysis Tuesday confirmed Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) was experiencing a pseudo pregnancy over the past several months. Pandas' hormone levels and behavior can indicate they're pregnant when they're not.

Volunteers at the zoo began a 24-hour pregnancy watch Friday as Mei Xiang's hormone levels began to level out. This is the fifth time she's experienced a pseudo pregnancy.

In 2005, Mei Xiang gave birth to her only cub, Tai Shan (TY-shawn), who was sent to a breeding program in China earlier this year.

This may have been the zoo's last chance to breed Mei Xiang and male Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN). A 10-year loan for them expires at the end of the year, when they could be returned to China.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: National Zoo staff perform an ultrasound on Mei Xiang. Credit: Mehgan Murphy / Smithsonian's National Zoo

Giant panda Mei Xiang may be pregnant, National Zoo biologists say

Mei Xiang the giant panda at the National Zoo Scientists at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. have detected rising hormone levels in the zoo's female giant panda, indicating that she could be pregnant.

The rising levels mean Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) could either give birth in 40 to 50 days or come to the end of a false pregnancy. She was artificially inseminated in January.

Reproductive biologist Janine Brown says zookeepers remain "hopeful, but cautious" that Mei Xiang is pregnant. Brown says the panda's hormone levels and behavior sometimes indicate she is pregnant when she's not.

Veterinarians are conducting weekly ultrasounds to look for a fetus. So far they haven't seen any indication of one, but it's still too early. Panda fetuses don't start developing until the last weeks of a gestation period.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Mei Xiang eats bamboo leaves at the National Zoo in 2002. Credit: Hyungwon Kang / Reuters

Your morning adorable: Yun Zi, San Diego Zoo's giant panda cub, makes a move (and climbs a tree)

Yun Zi

Yun Zi, the San Diego Zoo's resident giant panda cub, has hit another milestone: He and his mother, Bai Yun, were moved to the zoo's main public panda-viewing area Tuesday. 

Mother and cub had occupied a secluded den area, accessible only by zoo staff, until last month. Beginning Jan. 7, zoo staff allowed Yun Zi to spend a few hours per day in an outdoor exhibit they called "the classroom." 

Yun Zi was born in August and is the fifth offspring for Bai Yun and father Gao Gao; he has one brother, Mei Sheng, and three sisters, Hua Mei, Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. His name, which translates to "Son of Cloud," was chosen in November through a naming contest.

Yun Zi's big move means, of course, that zoo visitors will be able to get a good look at the adorable 6-month-old -- but the zoo is quick to point out that he'll also have access to a "bedroom" of sorts that is not visible to the public. "So at this time we are not promising a view of the cub; in fact, there is a chance that there will be days when Yun Zi stays inside the bedroom," panda narrator Anastasia Jonilionis wrote on the zoo's blog.

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Photo: Yun Zi climbs a tree in his new enclosure. Credit: Ken Bohn / Associated Press

Your morning adorable: Thailand's favorite giant panda cub receives a token from an admirer


Lin Ping, the giant panda born last year at Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo, continues to be treated like royalty in her birth country. For Valentine's Day, a zoo veterinarian even presented her with her very own plush rose toy. (We can't help but think from the expression on Lin Ping's face that she's a bit disappointed that her gift is a toy plant rather than an edible one, but maybe we're projecting.)

After Lin Ping's birth -- the first successful birth of a giant panda in Thailand's history -- the Thai public became so enchanted by the cub that elephant keepers felt their charges had been relegated to also-ran status. To draw attention back to Thailand's elephant population, the keepers tried an unorthodox tactic, painting the pachyderms to resemble giant pandas, using water-based paint.

Lin Ping's name, which was selected by her fans in a contest that received more than 20 million votes, is representative both of her Thai birthplace and her Chinese heritage (her parents are on loan to the Chiang Mai Zoo from China). The name honors the cub's mother, Lin Hui, calls to mind the name of Thailand's Ping River and translates to "forest of ice" in Chinese.

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Photo: Pongmanat Tasiri / European Pressphoto Agency

Giant pandas Tai Shan, Mei Lan head for China from the American zoos where they were born

Giant panda Tai Shan ships Federal Express

Two giant pandas born in American zoos were headed to China by special cargo jet Thursday to become part of a breeding program in their endangered species' native land.

Three-year-old Mei Lan (pronounced MAY-lahn) of Zoo Atlanta and 4 1/2-year-old Tai Shan (TY-shawn) of the National Zoo in Washington were loaded into travel crates for their long flight to new homes in Sichuan.

Zookeepers fed Tai Shan apple and pear slices by hand through bars in his shipping crate before he left for Dulles International Airport early Thursday in a caravan escorted by U.S. Park Police. He munched calmly and looked out through clear plastic windows.

In Atlanta, Mei Lan could be seen pacing rapidly back and forth before her crate was lifted into the belly of a FedEx freighter for a flight to Washington, where she will join Tai Shan for the China trip aboard another Boeing 777 with a panda painted on the side.

It's a day panda lovers have been dreading.

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Help wanted: A Chinese-language tutor for Mei Lan, giant panda born in U.S. but soon to arrive in China

Mei lan Ni hao -- hello -- Mei Lan! Chinese zookeepers are advertising for a tutor to teach Chinese to an American-born giant panda arriving this week in her parents' homeland.

The language lessons, a special diet and even blind dates are also part of the red-carpet welcome being rolled out for 3-year-old Mei Lan, or Beautiful Orchid, by Chinese caretakers ahead of her arrival Friday on a special FedEx flight from the U.S.

Under a deal between China and the U.S., all giant pandas originally from China are only lent to foreign zoos for scientific study for several years. They and any cubs they produce must all return to China eventually.

Determined to help Mei Lan adapt more quickly to her new life, the caretakers at her new home, the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, are recruiting a language teacher via the Internet. Mei Lan has lived at a zoo in Atlanta since her birth in 2006.

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Your morning adorable: Giant panda or bear-shaped sled? You be the judge

Mei Xiang, the National Zoo's giant panda, is the mother of soon-to-depart Tai Shan

Tai Shan, the giant panda born in Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo in 2005, is scheduled to be transported to China on Thursday. Tai Shan's parents are on loan to the zoo from China, and the arrangement stipulates that any offspring produced by the pair while in the U.S. belong to China and must be returned to become part of the country's conservation breeding program.  (The zoo even held a going-away party for Tai Shan late last month.)

Perhaps Tai Shan's mother, Mei Xiang (above), isn't aware that her son is leaving. Perhaps she knows that she'll be joining him in China soon (she and Tai Shan's father, Tian Tian, are expected to leave the National Zoo and return to their home country in December). Or perhaps she's attempting to forget her sorrows with a nice romp in the snow. (We suspect the former, but who are we to guess at a panda's motivations?)

Whatever the case may be, Mei Xiang certainly seemed to enjoy turning herself into a panda-shaped cannonball as she rolled down a snowy hill Wednesday morning.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Don't miss a single adorable animal: Follow Unleashed on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

National Zoo prepares to bid farewell to giant panda Tai Shan

Taishan WASHINGTON — The Friends of the National Zoo will host a "Farewell to Tai Shan" party at the end of the month before the 4-year-old giant panda leaves for China.

The group announced Thursday that it will hold the goodbye party in Washington on Jan. 30. Zoo officials said in December that Tai Shan will be leaving under an agreement with the Chinese government.

The agreement that brought Tai Shan's mother, Mei Xiang, and father, Tian Tian, to the zoo calls for any panda offspring to be returned to China for breeding.

A zoo spokeswoman says the event will be the main public farewell for Tai Shan. Panda fans will be able to write goodbye cards, and experts will be on hand. It's not clear, though, what day Tai Shan will depart.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Tai Shan sleeps in a tree in his enclosure at the National Zoo.  Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

Your morning adorable: San Diego Zoo's giant panda cub, Yun Zi, debuts to the public

5-month-old giant panda cub Yun Zi 
made his official media debut on January 6, 2010 at the San Diego Zoo. While 
cameras clicked and video rolled, Yun Zi trotted after his mother, climbed up 
trees, scooted across branches upside down and he tumbled to the ground.

Yun Zi, the San Diego Zoo's 5-month-old giant panda cub, was apparently determined to be as cute as physically possible in his debut to the media Wednesday. Photographers were on hand to document the cub in advance of his debut to the public this morning. As of today, he can be seen in a special outdoor exhibit zoo workers have dubbed "the classroom" for a few hours a day.

Keepers have waited longer to place Yun Zi on display than they did with his older siblings, brother Mei Sheng and sisters Hua Mei, Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. Unlike his brother and sisters, Yun Zi (whose name translates to "Son of Cloud") was something of a homebody until recently, often opting to remain in the den he shares with his mother rather than explore outdoors. But in the last few weeks, he's "started picking up speed in the behavioral milestone department. ... His social play has picked up," senior research technician Suzanne Hall wrote on the zoo's blog. "He [now] seems very ready to meet the challenges of being on exhibit."

Despite Yun Zi's apparent readiness to appear before the public, Hall was quick to point out another potential problem with having him on display: His sleeping schedule. "Keepers have noted that when they come in at 6 a.m., he is often busily tumbling around," she explained. "Unfortunately, the San Diego Zoo doesn't open at 6 a.m. In fact, by the time grounds open, it has been our boy's habit to be sound asleep in the den." To get him ready for his big debut, keepers have been working with him to alter his schedule so that he wakes up a few hours later. Even so, the zoo cautions panda fans that, although his exhibit will be open daily from 9 a.m. to noon, "there are no guarantees that Yun Zi will be awake!" (You might not be able to see him awake in person, but we can promise he's up and at 'em in the additional photos you'll see after the jump.)

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