Source AP ©

China to tattoo pandas before releasing them to forest

An official said Monday that park-bred pandas of China will be tattooed before being released into bamboo forests to integrate with the larger wild panda community.

Over the next two years, some 200 captive-born pandas will be tattooed with identification numbers inside their mouths to help scientists track their movements when they are eventually released into the wild, said Huang Xiangming, a researcher with the Chengdu Panda Breeding Center in Sichuan province.

They will receive a local anesthetic before a 3-centimeter (1-inch) numeric identification tag is permanently inked on their mouths, Huang said.

The pandas will also have a tracking chip inserted under their neck fur and a DNA profile will be developed based on hair or blood samples, he said.

There are about 1,600 wild pandas in the mountain forests of central China - the only place in the world they are found - and more than 180 live in captivity. Pandas are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low reproduction rate.

Huang said the measures will help scientists track the animals and monitor how they mix with pandas in the wild.

China's first panda bred in captivity and released into the wild, Xiang Xiang, died earlier this year after less than twelve months in the forest. It died from an apparent fall.

The body of the 5-year-old panda, Xiang Xiang, was found Feb. 19 on snow-covered ground in the forests of Sichuan province in China's southwest. Chinese officials said the body bore injuries inflicted by wild pandas, and the animal may have died trying to escape.

Chinese officials say they will continue to release captive-bred pandas in a bid to increase numbers of the endangered species.

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