300 Pandas

Posted at 10:31 am December 8, 2010 by Suzanne Hall

This summer, panda conservation efforts reached a major milestone: the population of pandas in zoos and breeding facilities reached 300 individuals. This goal number, one set years ago by a group of international scientists, is believed to be the point at which the captive population will be a self-sustaining entity capable of acting as a buffer against whatever difficulties might be experienced by the wild members of the species. Three hundred individuals should provide the panda with the resilience to survive even if the wild population disappears.

It’s not an exact science, however. This number is an estimate, not a perfect assessment of the state of the captive population. For example, if the genetic composition of these breeding-center bears does not reflect the composition of their wild counterparts, then the species will still be at a major disadvantage if the wild bears disappear. Unfortunately, we know that some captive pandas, those that have been extraordinarily successful at breeding over the years, are overrepresented in the managed-care population. Pan Pan, Bai Yun’s father, is a perfect example of this. So many bears of the Wolong population are his descendants, as are cubs born at the San Diego Zoo and National Zoo. While this may be good news for Pan Pan and the genes he carries, it’s not such good news for those rare genes hidden inside those males that haven’t mastered the art of breeding in a captive facility. And those rare genes could confer some special form of adaptability that could be necessary for the survival of the species down the road.

For this reason and others, it is still critical to work toward conservation of wild pandas. Efforts to protect wild places where pandas live have been underway for some time, as China has increased the number of reserves in the last decade or so. Development of corridors between panda habitat is a hot topic of discussion. And the release of captive-born pandas to good panda habitat is just around the corner.

Three hundred is a good number, a significant step in the conservation of the black-and-white bear. It’s another reason for hope in the gloomy landscape of endangered species preservation. Though the panda is not out of the woods, we may yet see the time when wild numbers also rise to a point that researchers feel the species will be safe from extinction risk. That would be a milestone, indeed.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, So Much for Teflon…

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28 Responses to “300 Pandas”

  1. Shirley Ann says:

    Good News for those beautiful pandas

    Also, what I found very interesting was thatin order to fool the mother panda, when two pandas were born, they would switch them so both the babies would get nourishment.

  2. Lee in Vancouver says:

    Thanks Suzanne, you have put it in language that we can all understand. I am sure everyone is happy with the number 300 but it can’t stop there. Probably at one time that number seemed pretty unattainable due to the difficulty in raising the cubs to adulthood. Now that that is about 90% the next step will be to actually get some released and their genes mixing with the wild populace.

    Your work will be needed for many more years to come and ours will too. We must get more people to take an interest in endangered or threatened animals.

  3. Lisa in Maine says:

    This is promising news and hits home as to why the breeding centers and zoos play such an important part in the future of the panda. Thanks for all you do. I love being able to watch the pandas in San Diego when I am at home in Maine. Again, please let me know if you need any snow. We have 8-10 inches and are expecting more Sunday night, yippee!!!!

  4. Karen in Edmonton AB Canada says:

    Thank you for another very informative blog. I look forward to seeing the numbers next year.

  5. Kathy says:

    I do understand that Pan Pan does have many “children”. I’m wondering if the mating of Bai Yun and Gao Gao – who was a wild Panda – will help with the diversity of the breeding pool. Yes, Pan Pan was Bai Yun father, but I’m wondering if the adding of Gao Gao is going to help. Has Mei Sheng become a father yes?????

  6. Panda Fan says:

    Suzanne, do you think the cub was convinced by the panda suits?

    dailymail (dot) co (dot) uk/news/article-1336070/Why-Chinese-scientists-dressing-Panda-suits-fool-bear-cubs.html

  7. Peggy says:

    What about Atlanta’s pandas? Are they also related to our pandas and Pan Pan? It would appear that the Chinese have their work cut out for them in that they need to work even harder to get other male pandas not reproducing to reproduce. I know they work so hard as it is but I’m sure they also are very aware that they need to have pandas with all the genes that give the panda the ability to survive extinction. They’ve done a remarkable job but as we all have noted the battle still continues. The next major milestone will be putting a captive panda back into the wild and that panda surviving and reproducing.

  8. Esther says:

    Suzanne, what is the estimated population of Pandas in the wild now?

  9. Frances in NYC says:

    Panda Fan #6–I wondered about that too–but I figure a young panda like that doesn’t really have much to compare to–for all he knows, some of his relatives have big heads and carry blue plastic boxes.

    I confess that when I heard about releasing Cao Cao and the other panda moms-to-be into the semi-wild environment, I expected less close monitoring by humans. Maybe Cao Cao’s cub is participating in a testing phase, to see if pandas will accept people in panda suits should they need to intervene in case of emergency. Cao Cao seems to be doing a fine job of raising her little one on her own–I hope the cub was going to be returned to her?

    Glad to hear that the first phase of saving the giant panda has been reached!

  10. Mary from Brooklyn says:

    Suzanne, I’m assuming the 300 number also includes the “retired” or non-reproductive pandas. It would be interesting to know what the number of reproducing or pre-reproducing pandas is. Does anyone have that data?

    Fascinating story. Since the number of captive pandas appears to have grown almost exponentially since the program began, it’s really encouraging to know that the number of births outstrips the number of deaths.

  11. Bamboo Britney says:

    I was wondering where the panda researchers got the panda cub, did they find the cub in a den, or in a tree?

    I heard they are keeping the cub in a fenced off wooded area. If they found the cub in a den, the mother would most likely come back for cub. 😮

  12. Danielle, NY says:

    Suzanne, thanks very much for this very informative blog which send the message that we should be hopeful and cautious at the same time about the future of pandas.

    It is amusing that earlier today I just picked up, from my local library, a book “Smithsonian Book of Giant pandas” by Susan Lumpkin and John Seidensticker. I hope I will learn more about those beautiful bears.

    I think the scientific community realized recently that the quality of the gene pool should take precedent over the quantity. And your blog is relaying that information as well.

    Today’s blog from the Japanese Pambassador Yumiko Kajiwara is about a cub named Er Xi born on July 26, 2010. yumikaji15(dot)blogspot(dot)com/2010/12/vacation-chengdu-panda-base-20.html His mother is Er Yatou and his father is Qiu Bang, that you may know under his Japanese name Shu Yin. Er Xi is Qiu Bang’s first cub. Qiu Bang is one of Mei Mei and Ei Mei’s sons, both were born in captivity. Neither of them have parents or ancestors who had too many cubs, even though they, themselves, are parents to many pandas. Mei Mei’s father is Lin Nan, who is also Lun Lun’s father. Ei Mei was born at the Beijing Zoo and his family tree goes back to some of his great-grandparents. Er Yatou’s mother is Qing Qing, daughter of Mei Mei and Qiang Qiang (not the same Mei Mei as Qui Bang’s mother, both were born in the wild and captured), Er Yatou’s father is Xiao Ping (born in the wild and captured).

    I thought it was good news when I read Yumiko’s blog as Er Yatou is 17 years old and Qiu Bang is 7 years old. I thought she had experience mating and could have taught him how it is done, unfortunately, natural mating was not successful and Er Yatou had AI. www(dot)panda(dot)org(dot)cn/english/news/news_view.asp?newsid=388 But what is also important is that little Er Xi is made up of a new mixture of genes, and that can be only good for the survival of the pandas as a species.

  13. Suzanne says:

    Kathy #5,

    Yes, it is very important to get the genes of males like Gao Gao, who have few offspring, to breed. With his success in San Diego, Gao Gao should have his genes well represented in the next generations…provided his offspring are successful breeders, too.

    Panda Fan #6,


  14. Kathy in CT says:

    I am grateful that the global community is involved in this delicate and passionate effort, and that the SDZ global action team is moving forward to bring balance for our endangered species. Our next challenge is to draw the next generation into the conservation efforts. Those are important teaching moments for me- especially as we read the latest ZOONOOZ together. Keep the info coming- you are crucial messengers for global change!!

    Moderator’s note: We encourage everyone to join the Zoo’s Global Action Team!

  15. Tony from Clearwater FL says:

    I have photos of our Panda Holiday Lawn display up on www(dot)flickr(dot)com. Just type holiday pandamonium in the search box, our photos are under member name 1derol.

    Some of you bloggers may remember I posted our Panda lawn display about two years ago on the SDZ Panda blog. This year one of our local TV stations sent a film crew out to shoot video of our display. They aired it a couple of nights ago.

    Glad to hear the captive population is doing well. I was worried about the earthquake two years ago and how much it would affect the panda conservation effort.

  16. Mary Kay says:

    Wow, I can only imagine the family tree(s) of all the pandas in captivity! It makes me wonder though – how do you make sure the other genes get into the pool? Do they or have they stopped breeding the descendents of Pan Pan?

  17. Deb E. says:

    God Bless Gao Gao for contributing his unique genes (and webbed toes!) to the captive panda population. It would be a monumental tragedy for the world if we lost these incredible, adorable, mysterious creatures.

  18. lu says:

    Glad the programs are working in saving the panda’s. The current zoo’s in the program are doing a great

    job, and the takes dication from many people like you guys in the SDZ. Also the fore sight of the chinese

    people for their hard work.

    Thank you for the update.


  19. Weegee says:

    Marie (from previous blog),

    CMZ vet, Dr. Goi measured the size of LH’s vagina and collected the tissues to see if LH’s ready for her next breeding. Dr. Goi said if the female panda’s in heat, its vagina will be swollen. And it’s almost that time of year again so the panda team had to be prepared.

    The weaning is on-going. The reason they have to let LH and LP be together again is because the fans would love to see mother and daughter playing in their outdoor yard for the last time….

    During night time, CC will stay outside in the yard that means there’s one available room inside. The keeper decide to leave the connected door between each enclosure open so that LH and LP will choose for themselves when they want to have their privacy. Most of the time, I found they slept separately in the different room. And I agree with you too that it’s so funny to see our big girl’s still nursing….^____^…..

    I’ve captured some cute and funny moments of the three pandas in Thailand that I would love to share with you guys and there’re still more to come….Please check out my FB…..


  20. Chari Mercier says:

    Hi! 300 pandas in worldwide zoos and sanctuaries, about 1600 wild pandas–looks like the pandas are headed in the right direction so far! But, as Suzanne said, alot more conservation/research work still needs to be done to make sure that the pandas are still here for our kids, grandkids, great grandkids to see in captivity and in the wild. The people of China that work with these pandas are doing such a great job in keeping these bears going as well as taking very good care of them and their habitats. Pandas International has a great article on the email newsletter that I got a few days ago about Cao Cao’s cub that was born in the Hetaoping research area that is in the nature reserve of Wolong. Cao’s cub is now 4 months old and has been totally dependent on his mom 100% without any help from the people that monitor the semi wild area that Cao Cao and 4 other pandas are in now ( they have cams installed there for monitoring). There’s a video from NBC News about Cao Cao’s cub and how the researchers approach him. It’s really interesting in how they are doing this. Cao’s cub will be on track to be introduced into the wild area of Wolong when he’s weaned and old enough to go out on his own. Don’t know if they will name Cao’s cub at 100 days old, but we’ll find out about that soon.

    Lun Lun and her cub are doing great in Atlanta, so the keepers did an update on big bro Xi Lan and his training to be still so that the vets can draw blood from his arm for lab analysis. Looks like Xi is like his dad, Yang Yang! Neither one of them like to lay still for too long and let the vets do their job, plus both of them have slow blood flows; it takes awhile for the blood to reach the vile thru the butterfly needle. So, they will keep working with Xi to help him stay still longer so that the vets can get the right amount of blood they need for their lab analysis. This is a necessary part of the care and health of the pandas in their overall health checkups. I’m sure that Xi Lan the Xman will get it soon enough!

    Read Part 3 of Gaylene and Tracy’s trip to China with Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. It was very good and very interesting. Glad you are back home in San Diego, Gaylene and Tracy, and I know that you are missing the 2 girls alot. All of us pandafans that watch the SDZ pandacam miss them, too!

    That’s it for now. I’ll get back to the pandacams tomorrow!

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  21. Lucy says:

    Although the number has reached a milestone,a lot of panda can not reproduce by themselves. If AI hadn’t been done, the growth rate of panda population could be greatly reduce. Even if 300 pandas are released to the wild. Only a few of them could accomplish reproduction without the help of human, is it possible that we might need more pandas than 300 to make it up or the calculation has already taken the reproduction problem into account?
    I truly wish that scientist could solve the panda reproduction or mating mystery…so that the species could survive on their own.
    I truly wish scientist could solve the mystery of panda reproduction,

  22. Marie says:

    Thanks for the update Suzanne. Is it encouraging news and let’s just hope it keeps getting better as the years go on. We cannnot let this beautiful, wonderful species die out.

    # 3 Lisa in Maine: I’m not too far from Maine (Montreal) and we got a 12 inches between Monday and Tuesday and like you, we are expecting another storm on Sunday. Ugh to Winter!

  23. Annie Panda says:

    Thanks Suzanne for the post, I think it’s great that there are 300 pandas in zoos and breeding facilities, but it’s sad to think that the population of pandas in the wild are still decreasing. I know that some places in China have let pandas out into the semi-wild, but what if they don’t survive? I know they have cameras and everything, the pandas are probably safe, but they aren’t really in the real wild anyway and it must be hard to take the risk of letting pandas out eventually into the real wild.

    Anyway, so glad we got to hear a lot about Zhennie and Su Su!!

    Peace, Love and Pandas CIAO!

    Annie Panda

  24. Anne in NYC says:

    A question about twin cubs: I understand the idea of swiching the cubs so that they are both nourished and that the mother bear gets to know each one. Are both of them ever released to the mother? If so, at what age? Assume that she can take care of bigger cubs since they require less attention.

  25. Anne in NYC says:

    Was just watching Lun and Wee Lan on the AZ pandacam. Lun has to be the fluffiest mama bear ever! No wonder Wee Lan loves to suggle in her chest.

  26. Danielle, NY says:

    Fu Hu’s official naming ceremony will take place in Vienna on Monday in the presence of dignitaries from China, including the Chinese ambassador to Austria, and dignitaries from Austria. Children from a Chinese school will perform traditional dances in honor of the black and white fur ball. But don’t rush to buy your ticket to attend the event, Fu Hu will be absent from the ceremony….


    To connect this event to Suzanne’s blog, it is not very good news for the survival of the panda species in terms of genetic diversity, as Fu Long and Fu Hu’s mother, Yang Yang, is a daughter of Da Di, Bai Yun’s brother. So they are descendants of Pan Pan. What I find interesting is that both Bai Yun and Yang Yang have naturally mated with their respective partners. So perhaps there is something very good in Pan Pan’s genes in terms of reproduction…

    As I have mentioned previously on this site, I am surprised that many of the pandas that have lived very long lives, past 30, don’t have any offspring. A theme for further research? Anyone interested out there?

  27. Anne in NYC says:

    Panda Fan#6: I agree with Suzanne. Did you see the look on that cubbie’s face when he was looking at the guys in the panda suits? Even at his young age, I don’t think he bought it!

  28. lj says:

    #6 panda fan, pretty cute costumes, I would like one 🙂 Very SAD story though.