Pandas Prepare for Risky Duty

Chinese scientists will set 4 free, but they must learn to defend themselves
By Michael O'Connor,  Newser User
Posted Dec 16, 2007 6:45 AM CST
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, panda "Zhuzhu" eats its specially made birthday "cake" in the Wild Zoo in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007....   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Four panda bears bred in captivity in China will soon be set free in a bid to save their species from extinction. But first, they've got to toughen up. Scientists at the nation's biggest panda breeding center are preparing to release two males and two females into the wild, and they're trying to give the bears street smarts of a sort—how to sense danger and fend off attacks, the Times reports.

The scientists say they've learned a lesson from last year, when they set a male free only to have him killed by his wild cousins when he encroached on their territory. The experiment is risky, but scientists say they need to expand the gene pool of the 1,600 or so pandas in the wild if the species is to survive.