China is in the process of creating a huge panda reserve covering 10,476 square miles. This reserve is three times the size of Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
With all of the work saving the panda in China, it is surprising that the first reintroduction attempt was only 2006. Since then seven more have been reintroduced, but out of these eight only five survived.
It is clear that as with many large mammals, reintroduction is extraordinarily complicated. It is not simply good enough to put fully healthy animals in the right habitat, without teaching them to survive. This knowledge would usually be passed on over years by the animal’s mother. Primates, bears, big cats all take much teaching to get ready for living wild.
Although, it is highly impressive that people have learnt this knowledge and taught it to animals, it is clear that the way to save species is to protect them earlier and keep them in the wild. In places translocation- moving animals from another part of their range can work, however we need to be careful not to mix sub species if it is not essential to save the whole species. Often these subspecies adaptations allow an animal to survive where other members of their species would die. An example is mountain gorillas – there is not a huge difference genetically between eastern gorilla and mountain gorillas.
However mountain gorillas have adapted to the cold at altitude, by having far longer hair. Put a lowland eastern gorilla high on the mountain and they would likely die of exposure.
China’s recent decision is likely to remove the need for translocation. The reserve will encompass 67 panda reserves which will allow all these individual populations to become one larger population. This will both make pandas more genetically capable of surviving epidemics but also reinhabiting after local die offs. Covering eight current national parks as well, it will protect many other species. 170,000 people will have to be moved, but the money this reserve will pull to the area is likely to make these people richer (like the people surrounding mountain gorilla reserves), and there will be many jobs available. This reserve will also benefit leopards, red pandas, gibbons, black bears, hog badgers and many more.