San Diego/ Parks & Nature
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Published on February 22, 2024
San Diego Zoo May Welcome Giant Pandas Again Following New Conservation Agreement With ChinaSource: Chi King, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a move that's good news for panda enthusiasts, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is gearing up for the potential return of giant pandas to its facilities. In a partnership that's been almost three decades in the making, the SDZWA has signed a fresh cooperative agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, as was first reported by the organization's press release. This big step forward follows a series of successful conservation collaborations which have helped bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

According to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance's statement, their joint efforts have yielded an impressive increase in scientific understanding of giant panda biology and conservation needs, especially as the animals face a changing climate. These strides in research haven't gone unnoticed; the work contributed to the giant panda being downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List in 2021. But Dr. Megan Owen, San Diego Zoo's VP of Conservation Science, says securing their future means there's much more work that needs doing.

Dr. Owen highlighted the importance of the alliance's ongoing efforts in a released statement, "We are humbled by the potential opportunity of continuing our collaborative conservation efforts to secure the future for giant pandas. As such, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is taking important steps to ensure we are prepared for a potential return. This includes sharing our detailed conservation plans with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure alignment for the greater benefit of giant pandas."

Collaborative research between the SDZWA and Chinese scientists has led to crucial discoveries and scientific advancements. These have included breakthroughs in understanding the reproductive habits, dietary needs, and habitat requirements of giant pandas, detailed in the alliance's press materials. The conservationists have also innovated in creating a giant panda milk formula, increasing nursery-reared cub survival rates from a measly 5% to a staggering 95%, and have carried out the first successful artificial insemination procedure of a giant panda outside China, San Diego Zoo authorities expressed.

Even with their status improvement, giant pandas aren't out of the woods yet. They face threats such as habitat fragmentation and population isolation, due to climate change among other factors. To combat these, SDZWA aims to enhance pandas' population health and expand their resistance to such pressures. "Pandas in our care and in the care of Chinese colleagues at conservation facilities play an important role as assurance against extinction and loss of genetic diversity in their native habitats, as well as a source population for reintroductions,” Dr. Owen conveyed.

With the hope of continuing their success story, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is now in the process of seeking the necessary permits from U.S. authorities. If all goes as planned, visitors to the zoo might once again enjoy the sight of these sociable, bamboo-munching bears in the not-too-distant future.