Back in 2006, Chinese scientists released a panda named Xiang Xiang into the wild as part of their effort to increase population levels. Unfortunately, Xiang Xiang was killed a year later when he got into a fight with wild pandas. Hoping to avoid a similar setback, scientists have now released a second panda into the wild — but this time they prepared the two-year-old by putting him through a special survival school.
Named Tao Tao, the artificially bred panda was raised by his mother who fed him and taught him some basic skills (like climbing). But looking to harden the young panda and prepare him for the wild, scientists at the Wolong Nature Reserve came up with a supplemental survival training schedule.
As part of this regimen, Tao Tao's handlers wore panda suits to prevent him from getting too familiar with humans. They then exposed the panda to semi-wild conditions, including mud-rock flows, snow disasters, and rainstorms. Tao Tao also learned to fear humans and hide from them. And lastly, he was trained to recognize enemies and his own kind.
"As opposed to Xiang Xiang's captive-bred environment, Tao Tao has lived and grown in semi-wild conditions since being very little. This means that his fighting capability and survival skills both improved significantly," said project director Zhang Hemin when speaking to the Xinhua news agency.
But as the scientists admit, Tao Tao still has his work cut out for him. In addition to belligerant pandas looking to protect their food and territory, the young panda will also have to look out for bears, leopards, and wolves.
"Even though we have used new training methods, Taotao is only the second such panda released to nature, and we remain at the experimental stage," said Zhang.
Images via Reuters.