- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

4:39 p.m.

BEIJING (AP) — The first panda to be released into bamboo forests after being bred in captivity has died, and a Chinese nature preserve official said today it may have fallen from trees while being chased by wild pandas.

The body of Xiang Xiang was found Feb. 19 on snow-covered ground in the forests of Sichuan province in China’s southwest, the Xinhua News Agency said. He survived less than a year in the wild after nearly three years of training in survival techniques and defense tactics.

“Xiang Xiang died of serious internal injuries in the left side of his chest and stomach by falling from a high place,” Heng Yi, an official from the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in Sichuan, said in a telephone interview.

“The scratches and other minor injuries caused by other wild pandas were found on his body,” he said. “So Xiang Xiang may have fallen from trees when being chased by those pandas.”

Mr. Heng said the long delay in announcing Xiang Xiang’s death was attributed to the need for a full investigation.

“We are all sad about Xiang Xiang, but it doesn’t mean the project has failed,” Zhang Hemin, the center’s head, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. “The lessons we have learnt from what happened to Xiang Xiang will help us adapt and improve the project.”

The 176-pound male panda was released from Wolong in April 2006.

Xiang Xiang, whose name means “auspicious,” learned how to build a den, forage for food and mark his territory during his three years of training, experts at Wolong have said. He also developed defensive skills such as howling and biting.

There are only about 1,600 wild pandas in the mountain forests of central China — the only place in the world where they are found — and more than 180 live in captivity.

Pandas are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low reproduction rate. Females in the wild typically have a cub once every two to three years.

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