Red pandas bred in captivity fitted with radio collars to be released in National Park in Darjeeling for captive breeding
Four red pandas bred in captivity and fitted with radio collars would be released in the wild inside Singalila National Park in Darjeeling hills by mid-March as part of a captive breeding programme. Officials expect high frequency signals would help to pin point locations of the endangered mammals.
The park is located at a height of above 7,000 feet. Of the four red pandas, two are male while two are female.
The West Bengal forest department has already placed orders for four radio collars from the US and is currently in the process of acquiring satellite frequency license to operate them, said Rajendra Jakhar, director of Darjeeling Zoo.
Unlike in the past, when four captive-bred red pandas were released in two phases in 2003 and 2004 in Singalila National Park, Darjeeling Zoo authorities and senior forest officials are confident that the released mammals can be tracked precisely for at least three years.
The red panda is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list because its population in the wild is estimated to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals. The animal that has an average lifespan of about eight years in the wild and is about the size of a domestic cat faces threat due to habitat loss and poaching.
“Preparations are on for the release of the pandas by mid-March,” said V K Sood, additional principal chief conservator of forest of Bengal.
Bratya Basu, forest minister of Bengal, said that 12 hectares of land has been earmarked inside the park for the release of four red pandas that were bred in captivity in Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park popularly known as Darjeeling Zoo.
“The four pandas would be taken inside the park for ‘soft release’. After acclimatisation, they would be released in the wild while the fitted radio collars sending high frequency satellite signals would help to locate the mammals and to know about their behaviours,” said the director of Darjeeling Zoo.
The radio collars would help to read the location of the mammals at least five times a day.
Four persons – two field officers and two researchers – would monitor the mammals all time.
The experiment with red pandas failed 16 years ago. In 2003, two red pandas Sweety and Mille, also fitted with radio collars, were released in Singalila National Park. However, the signal was not strong and they did not meet the expectations. Though Sweety gave birth to two babies, there was no trace of the Mille as only the radio collar fitted was recovered. Forest officers believe that Mille fell prey to a leopard.
In 2004 two red pandas – Dolma and Nilam – were released, but there was no information about them after their release.
They were released in the wild as a part of a captive breeding and conservation programme that began in early nineties in Darjeeling Zoo.
Officers said that the four radio collars that have been ordered would cost ₹17 lakh including satellite usage charges. The annual maintenance cost for the four would be ₹1.5 lakh.
The order was placed only two weeks earlier.
The radio collars fitted with red pandas can be retrieved after their life span of three years. “Though the collars get detached as their battery levels drop, these devices keep on emitting signals and we can know their location,” said Jakhar.
According to a count in 2012, there were 38 red pandas in Singalila National Park. In Darjeeling zoo their number is 23.
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