Article by Basten Gokkon.
JAKARTA — A panda couple arrived here on Thursday, kicking off a captive breeding program aimed at boosting the species’ population, which is already inching upward thanks to the efforts of conservationists.
The male and female bears, named Cai Tao and Hu Chun, were flown in from the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu. They arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 9 a.m. local time.
The seven-year-old giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are the first to come to Indonesia since both nations signed a lease agreement last year.
Hu Chun, the female panda, arrives in Indonesia. Photo by Basten Gokkon/Mongabay.
Indonesian environment minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar called the loan agreement an “international validation” for the country’s ex-situ conservation programs, in which organisms are cared for outside their natural habitat.
“Hopefully, they will have a baby in the next two years,” she said.
For the next decade, the pandas will live in a 1,300-square-meter enclosure at Taman Safari Indonesia, a zoo outside Jakarta. It was designed as a replica of their natural habitat. The zoo has a strong captive-breeding record, according to the minister.
These include a bamboo plantation for feeding the animals, and four cages: two indoor, one outdoor and a special one for mating, zoo director Jansen Manansang said on the sidelines of Thursday’s ceremony.
“We also have a special team of 12 staff to take care of the pandas,” Manansang said, adding that they had studied every possible breeding technique for the panda, including artificial insemination.
Cai Tao, the male panda, at Thursday’s ceremony. Photo by Basten Gokkon/Mongabay.
The pandas will remain in quarantine for a month before a “soft launch” for public viewing.
Giant pandas are a solitary and seasonal-breeding mammal that only mate between March and May, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Female pandas ovulate for just two days every year.
The environment ministry will monitor the breeding program, said Wiratno, the ministry’s director general for natural-resources conservation.
Less than 1,900 pandas currently live in the wilds of China. Last year, the IUCN downlisted the creature from Endangered to Vulnerable due to successful conservation efforts led by the Chinese government.
Although its numbers are on the rise, its population remains threatened by climate change that is could wipe out more than a third of its bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, conservationists fear.