The giant panda is protected by China's Wildlife Protection Law and offenders convicted of poaching or smuggling skins can face life imprisonment (4). This species is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which effectively bans international trade (1). 60% of the giant panda's range lies within protected reserves (4), and this habitat protection is vital for the survival of the species in the wild. With more than 160 pandas currently in zoos around the world, captive breeding programmes are also of critical importance, both as insurance against the species going extinct in the wild, and to create a source for reintroduction into the wild when that becomes feasible (8). Although the captive population is still not yet self-sustaining (4), the success of captive breeding has markedly increased in recent years, thanks to significant advances in managing the health of captive pandas and a greater understanding of the species' reproductive biology (8). With Chinese colleagues, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and other North American zoos that exhibit giant pandas are conducting important work both in zoos and in the field to address the conservation needs of the giant panda. An important component of this is helping to improve conservation in China. National Zoo scientists are training Chinese professionals in conservation technologies, such as monitoring and the use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems), artificial insemination, genome resource banking, endocrine monitoring to assess health and reproduction, and genetic management of China's captive population. They are also mapping panda habitat and conducting mammal surveys in panda reserves, and have made major strides in understanding the reproductive biology of pandas. Their perfecting of artificial insemination techniques coupled with monitoring hormonal changes to predict peak fertility contributed to the increased breeding success of captive pandas noted above. These also resulted in the first giant panda born at the National Zoo in 2005 (8). Despite remaining in grave danger of extinction, the world's rarest bear is one of the universally recognised symbols of conservation. The panda has been a symbol of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) since the 1960s, an organisation that has also been working closely with the Chinese people over the decades to discover valuable information about this little-known bear, and to help conserve such a well-loved Chinese species for future generations (4).
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