Evolution in Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) Conservation: The Growing Interest in Health and Disease Susceptibility
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2014
Copper Aitken-Palmer1, DVM, PhD; David E. Wildt2, PhD; Andrea Lee1, BS, RAHT; William McShea3, PhD
1Department of Conservation Medicine, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, VA, USA; 2Center for Species Survival, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, VA, USA; 3Center for Conservation Ecology, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, VA, USA
The giant panda, a flagship species for animal conservation, has been studied extensively over the past 15 years with in situ emphasis on evaluation and improvement of habitat and ex situ focus on reproduction and enhanced management. Wild giant pandas are fragmented into 35 sub-populations with a significant proportion now protected with 65 reserves. Panda densities within the larger populations appear to be increasing, but fragmentation is greater due to increased road and hydropower construction. Science-based captive management has resulted in a population explosion from 120 pandas in 1998 to more than 370 individuals distributed globally today, a self-sustaining population managed from within China. With reproductive success and cub survival vastly improved, Chinese conservation efforts now are focused on successfully introducing pandas into existing or restored habitat. This priority has elevated concerns about diseases. Chinese colleagues are keenly interested in health issues that date back to findings from a major biomedical survey of giant pandas in the late 1990s. However, now the new linkages between ex situ and in situ activities re-emphasize that there is still much to be learned about giant panda health and disease susceptibility and transmission, including among feral and native species within shared wild habitat. Projects will address these priorities to help further ensure sustainability of the captive population while protecting wild giant pandas (and other species) during reintroductions/translocations. Especially important are international collaborations building veterinary capacity while beginning to fully understand disease sensitivity of this endangered species and reduce risks associated with moving animals.