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Cablegate: Many Panda Twins Flourish at New Ya'an Breeding Center

VZCZCXRO1019
RR RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHCN #0295/01 3430508
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 090508Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL CHENGDU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3618
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 4331

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENGDU 000295

SIPDIS

STATE PASS FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE/CITES

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO CH
SUBJECT: MANY PANDA TWINS FLOURISH AT NEW YA'AN BREEDING CENTER

CHENGDU 00000295 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Sixteen baby pandas were born this year at
the Ya'an Panda Breeding Center, successor to the
earthquake-devastated Wolong Panda Breeding Center, which will
reopen in 2012. Deputy Chief Engineer Huang Yan of the China
Panda Preservation Research Center, who is the science and
engineering director for the Ya'an Panda Breeding Center, said a
third panda breeding center will be built in Dujiangyan, a
western section of Chengdu's municipal region. All baby pandas
born this year -- half of them twins -- have survived since the
center learned how to keep switching the twins back and forth so
that the mother panda would feed both of them. The captive
panda breeding population will be limited to 500. The journal
"Nature" will soon publish the panda genome. End summary.

Panda Mothers Tricked into Raising Twins

----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Sixteen baby pandas were born to the 91 panda
refugees from the Wolong Giant Panda Captive Breeding Centre at
the 54-hectare Ya'an Panda Captive Breeding Centre, a two-hour
drive from Chengdu. All the baby pandas have survived so far:
the Ya'an center learned how to trick mother pandas by switching
babies regularly back and forth so both twins were properly fed,
Huang said. At the panda breeding center, one in two births
are panda twins, a rate scientists say is probably much higher
than in the wild for unknown reasons. Science director Huang
said that Ya'an does not have the wide-open spaces of Wolong,
the Ya'an Center faces the considerably expense of buying two
tons of bamboo every day from local farmers. Bundles of bamboo
awaiting pick-up line the road for miles on the way to the panda
captive breeding center located outside of Ya'an. Yang
Huanming, Director of the Genomics Institute of the Chinese
Academy of Sciences, told ConGenOff that Huang Yan is the
science and engineering leader of the Chinese captive
panda-breeding program, even though his title is only Assistant
Chief Engineer and the Chinese government has put several people
above him in the PRC panda bureaucracy.

Panda Breeding Success Raises Prospect of Panda Family Planning

--------------------------------------------- ------------------

2. (SBU) Director Huang said that at an international
conference on captive breeding of pandas, scientists decided
that a captive population of 500 pandas would ensure sufficient
genetic diversity so that pandas will be able to reproduce
indefinitely. Genealogies of captive pandas minimize
inbreeding. Currently the captive panda population in China is
about 190 pandas. The Chinese captive panda-breeding program
hopes eventually to re-introduce pandas back into the wild,
although some scientists are skeptical that this can succeed.
One method being considered for captive pandas to be born in a
large enclosure and have minimal contact with people so as to
better prepare them to return to the wild. Science director
Huang has trips planned to both Japan and Australia. Japanese
pandas, Huang recently learned, are now going into heat twice a
year. He did not know why.

4. (SBU) Baby pandas born to pandas lent to foreign zoos also
belong to China according to the standard panda agreement.
(Note: Currently, the Smithsonian National Zoo is negotiating
with China and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the
mechanics of the return of Tai Shan, born in Washington, D.C. in
2005. End note.) One UK scientist commented a few months ago
that the panda might be at an "evolutionary cul-de-sac": it has
a short intestine that prevents it from absorbing nutrients
efficiently yet it is specialized at eating bamboo, which has
little nutritional value, so it must eat large quantities of it.
That scientist was promptly pilloried in the Chinese press as
an insensitive ignoramus. Foreign panda enthusiasts, including
many from Germany, visit the Ya'an Panda Breeding Center. The
panda center raises some funds by selling the right to name
pandas.

Wolong Panda Breeding Center Will Re-open in Three Years;
Additional Center for Dujiangyan

--------------------------------------------- ------------

CHENGDU 00000295 002.2 OF 002

5. (SBU) Science director Huang said that Wolong Giant Panda
Captive Breeding Centre, which he led at the time of the May
12th Sichuan earthquake, would reopen in 2012 after earthquake
damage is repaired. A third center at Qingchengshan at
Dujiangyan, a western section of Chengdu city, will also be
built. Huang said that it is clear that it is too risky to have
just one panda breeding center.

6. (SBU) Huang told about his experiences as director of Wolong
panda center when pandas, staff and foreign visitors were
isolated for a week after the earthquake. The Wolong center
was out of contact with the outside world until a Chinese
aircraft dropped a satellite telephone to the centre several
days after the quake. A road link to the outside world was not
clear until one week after the quake. No people were hurt,
although Huang himself had a close brush with a large boulder
that rolled down from the hills. One panda was killed and a
second panda was missing.

Panda Genome Will Be Published in "Nature"

------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The UK scientific journal Nature will publish an
article on the giant panda genome by an international team led
by Beijing Genomics Institute at Shenzhen. The genome of 2008
Olympic games mascot Jing Jing, a panda at the Chengdu base was
sequenced. The Tibetan Antelope will be the next endangered
species to be sequenced by the Shenzhen team.
BROWN

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