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Cubs bred for profit, torn from their mothers - and sent to die in the wild: The cruel truth of China's panda factories


Captive-bred pandas are no more than a 'caricature' of the real thing and are unable to survive in the wild

It was a scene worthy of a Disney tear-jerker – and had a television audience to match. Leaving his mother behind, Tao Tao, the two-year-old giant panda, walked out of his cage and took his first uncertain steps to freedom in the mountain slopes of south-west China.
Behind him, the keepers who helped raise the cub from his birth in captivity watched as their young charge padded away into the bamboo-rich woodland where his fight to survive would begin.

Captive-bred Tao Tao being taken for release by handlers dressed in controversial panda suits

No detail had been spared in the careful preparation for Tao Tao’s future. His keepers made a model leopard, complete with a roaring sound, to teach him about his potential predators.
When the model was put into his enclosure in June, he dutifully ran for cover. Staff at the breeding centre even dressed in panda outfits to prevent their young charge becoming too familiar with his human captors.

Doomed: Xiang Xiang died in the wild shortly after he was released

Feeding time: Pandas born at the Chengdu breeding base. There might soon be more captive-bred giant pandas alive than wild ones

Images of Tao Tao’s release into the remote Liziping Nature Reserve in Sichuan ten days ago were broadcast around the world, just as the authorities intended, portraying an unusually humane side to the Chinese regime and demonstrating its absolute determination to save the giant panda, the national symbol, from extinction.

One of China's leading panda experts, with years of experience on the official breeding programme believes wild pandas have been driven to the brink of extinction

Today, Tao Tao is the only captive-bred giant panda in the wild. Officials boast that, if his release is a success, more young pandas will follow in his paw prints until the mountain forests of western China are once again home to a flourishing population.

Saved? Ynag Guang before he left for Edinburgh Zoo last December

If that is the vision served up to a credulous international audience, the reality is shockingly different. The truth is that wild pandas, their numbers already desperately low, are continuing to die out – their habitat disappearing beneath a tide of concrete as China’s economic juggernaut rolls on. It is entirely possible that there may be just a few hundred left.
Meanwhile the Chinese government makes millions lending captive-bred pandas to overseas zoos – including Edinburgh, which recently paid £6 million in a decade-long loan scheme.

Baby pandas being cared for in an incubator. During the breeding season, the centre becomes a brutal place as scientists use the window of opportunity to force the animals to reproduce

source: dailymail