SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Scientists in China may use a police dog to teach pandas to fight after the first artificially bred panda released into the wild was apparently killed after a battle with other animals, local media reported on Saturday.
The Wolong giant panda breeding centre plans to have four pandas raised in captivity live with a specially trained police dog or other animals, the Chengdu Daily quoted reserve officials as saying. The officials could not be reached for comment.
The pandas would learn how to protect themselves by observing the dog, increasing their chances of survival when they were eventually released into the mountainous wilds of the far western province of Sichuan.
The world’s first artificially bred panda to be released, a 5-year-old male named Xiang Xiang, was found dead in the snow early this year after less than 12 months out of captivity.
Scientists believe he fell from a high place after getting into a fight with wild pandas or other animals over food or territory.
China is now preparing to release a second batch of up to four artificially bred pandas. Many or all would be females, which may be less prone to becoming involved in fights.
Breeding pandas through artificial insemination and introducing them to the wild is an important part of China’s efforts to save the species, which is now estimated to number between 1,000 and 2,000 in the wild.
Pandas chosen for release undergo years of training. Adult pandas need to spend up to 16 hours a day foraging and eating bamboo and almost all the remaining time resting or sleeping, making them vulnerable in harsh environments.
To boost captive pandas’ low fertility rates and weak sexual desire, China has even resorted to showing them videos of other pandas mating.
Reporting by Andrew Torchia, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall