Giant panda Xue Xue, who was born on August 15, 2012, was released into the wild at the Liziping Natural Reserve in Shimian, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Tuesday Oct. 14, 2014. She became the fourth giant panda to be bred in captivity and released into the wild in China.
Like Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang before her (the two pandas released under the current reintroduction protocol), Xue Xue spent two years’ training in habitat selection, foraging, and avoiding natural enemies. Under her mothers guidance, and without human intervention, Xue Xue learned to search for food and water, nest, and avoid predators. Young pandas in the program are rigorously monitored (via live cameras) to ensure that they are “passing” all of the target requirements. In the past, caretakers wore special panda suits smeared with panda urine and feces when contact was necessary. Closer to release date, however, to make her wary of poachers, they stopped wearing the suits when giving her injections, transporting her long distances, or other unpleasant activities.
It is only those pandas that “pass” all of the testing parameters that are deemed fit for reintroduction. In Xue Xue’s case, not only did she meet and exceed all testing parameters, but she had also fully separated from her mother (which generally happens around the age of 2), showing that she was comfortably independent. Xue Xue and her mother, Si Xue, had no contact with each other for several months before she was transferred to Liziping.
Both before and after transport, Xue Xue was given full physical examinations to ensure that she was as physically ready for reintroduction as she was behaviorally. She was placed in a holding area prior to her release for final observation.
On the day of her release, Xue Xue showed some reluctance to leave her transport container initially, a behavior which showed that she has learned to be observant and cautious of changes in her environment. Her mother taught her well. Check out more photos of the big day here.