Smithsonian's National Zoo Receives Major Pledge for Giant Panda Research from Ford Motor Company Fund

24-Hour Panda Pregnancy Watch Begins

The Smithsonian's National Zoo will receive $400,000 over the next two years from the Ford Motor Company Fund to study the health of giant pandas. Zoo scientists, in collaboration with their Chinese colleagues at the developing Wildlife Disease Control Center, will research disease transmission and susceptibility to benefit captive and wild giant pandas. The findings will be critically important as scientists ensure that all giant pandas currently in human care are healthy upon eventual reintroduction into the wild. The center is part of the world-renowned Wolong Nature Reserve. The Zoo will also use the gift to start upgrading its analog panda cam system in the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. The panda cams are operated by trained volunteers who began the 24-hour behavior monitoring of Mei Xiang Tuesday, Sept. 4. The behavior studies are an integral part of the Zoo's research effort to better understand the species' reproductive physiology.

Given the long association between Ford Motor Company Fund and the Smithsonian, we're delighted that they chose to support our conservation work in China and help upgrade our panda cams, said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. The upgrade to our panda cams will make a significant difference for the millions of people that watch and learn about Mei and Tian remotely.

Over the next few years National Zoo scientists will travel to the Wildlife Disease Control Center—currently under construction and the first of its kind in China—to help develop veterinary diagnostics for improved giant panda health. A cooperative project has already been started to study the unique parasites of giant pandas that are likely present in wild populations. The biomedical research will benefit the rapidly growing captive population of giant pandas associated with the Wolong Reserve, but also those pandas eligible for reintroduction and those living in zoos around the world. The new protocols and research will also be used to study other species representing China's rich biodiversity, such as the red panda, takin, goral and golden monkey.

Over the past 12 years the National Zoo's giant pandas have participated in conservation science research initiatives and become animal celebrities via the Zoo's webcams. Fourteen-year-old Mei Xiang and 15-year-old Tian Tian have been accessible to virtual Zoo visitors since 2000, but the outdated analog webcam system is not compatible with many new devices. The Zoo will use a portion of the donation from the Ford Motor Company Fund to start replacing the entire webcam system for the giant pandas—which totals 48 cameras—with a modern network-based system. The interior panda webcams will be replaced first, followed by the exterior cams and the monitoring station. The new system will continuously record the pandas, allowing behavior research to continue even while researchers are not physically at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat, and enable virtual Zoo visitors to watch live video of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian on any Web streaming device. The new system for the giant panda webcams will pave the way for all of the Zoo's animal cameras to be converted to a digital platform.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a key role in the Smithsonian's global efforts to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered at a Smithsonian facility in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.

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