“At the top of the ridge, I sit down to catch my breath. I’m in a bamboo forest in the mountains of China, on a mission to see a giant panda in the wild. We left at dawn and fought our way through miles of dense bamboo, struggling up the slippery slopes of the Foping Nature Reserve. I look down and marvel at the tangle of bamboo scratches on my arms. This formidable terrain is just one of many obstacles in my ten year mission to see wild pandas – and ultimately to help save the species.”
— Dr. Ron Swaisgood, Director of Applied Animal Ecology, San Diego Zoo Global
What a long way we have come with giant panda conservation. This is true for both San Diego Zoo Global’s program and for panda conservation science in general. Our researchers developed thermal imaging as a novel technique for early pregnancy diagnosis and produced the first surviving giant panda cub in North America through artificial insemination. With six cubs born to date, our unprecedented success has contributed to a global baby boom that has reached 300 pandas in zoos and breeding centers, the target population size necessary for sustaining the species into the future.
Our applied ecology research team built on this success through a historic collaboration with Chinese scientists. For the first time in 20 years, we are now tracking wild pandas in China’s Foping Nature Reserve using radiotelemetry. Most remarkably, the Chinese government has increased the number of panda reserves from 4 to 62 in the last decade, helping to ensure the long-term survival of this beloved species in its native habitat. We are proud of the leadership role we are playing in both wild panda conservation and breeding efforts.