Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (PNHZP) will release four red pandas into Singalila National Park this September, 15 years after the success of a similar programme.
“The plans have been submitted to the ministry of environment and forest. We have conducted genetic studies, fingerprinting and DNA tests on the four animals,” West Bengal Zoo Authority member-secretary Vinod Kumar Yadav said on the sidelines of a workshop on Wednesday. At present, PNHZP has 21 red pandas, 13 of them female. Plans are on for another such release next year.
PNHZP, known as Darjeeling zoo, had released Sweety and Millie into the wild in 2003 and Dolma and Nilam the following year as part of a captive breeding and conservation programme that began in 1986. Though it came under fire after Millie fell prey to a leopard, raising questions about the ability of captive-bred pandas to survive in the wild, hopes were raised when Sweety gave birth.
Yadav said the jungle habitat evaluation was being conducted using drone mapping and satellite photography. “As part of the global management programme, the breeding of red pandas in each continent is managed by regional zoos. Through this, zoos cooperate to optimize the population of red pandas in their facilities. As far as the Darjeeling zoo’s breeding in-captivity programme is concerned, they are doing exciting work,” said Global Species Management Plans convener Angela Glatston.
A 2012 census recorded 27 red pandas while genetic analysis of scat samples revealed 38 individuals at Singalila. “A census has been on since last year in two processes — visiting nests and habitats, and analysing scat,” chief wildlife warden Ravi Kant Sinha said.
The release of red pandas was a step-by-step process, which involved holding workshops, preparing species survival studies and expanding the Topgey Dara breeding facility here. “The next step is phased habilitation at Singalila and Neora Valley National Park. The programme included exchange of animals from member zoos across the world for new bloodlines,” Sinha said.