(ECNS) -- Giant panda He Sheng died from an attack by an unidentified animal last year, months after being released into the wild as part of a rehabilitation project, according to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
Chinese researchers have a phased approach to introducing captive-bred pandas into the wild. The male panda Hesheng and female panda Qianqian were among the first to complete wilderness training before they were moved to Liziping Nature Reserve in Ya'an City, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, in March 2016.
After months of training in a “semi-wild” environment, they were released into the reserve in July to live completely on their own. On Sept. 11, researchers found that Hesheng was healthy, at a normal weight and about 3.5 kilometers from where he was set free, indicating that he was able to search for food and water in the wild for two months.
A GPS device attached to Hesheng sent alarm signals on Sept. 27 and he was eventually found dead, with injuries to his shoulder, ear and hind legs. Researchers could not identify the attacking animal.
After the tragedy, the other panda Qian Qian was taken back to Liziping's controlled rehabilitation area ahead of winter, which brings more risks. The panda is now in good health.
The Chengdu center said it was deeply saddened by the loss of Hesheng, emphasizing that releasing captive-bred giant pandas into the wild is long-term project and still in early stages of development.
The center also promised to carry out more systematic, rigorous plans to make the project a success.