China's taking a giant step in its efforts to repopulate shrinking wild panda populations with captive-bred pandas.
Previous efforts to do so have been met largely with failure. Of the 10 captive-bred pandas released into the wild, six had to be returned to an animal sanctuary after they lost too much weight. One was killed by other pandas and another died for reasons not precisely known, according to a report from AFP. Only two have been successful.
But this time, Chinese officials are taking a new approach. According to The Guardian, the six animals will be released as a group, which officials hope will give them a better chance at survival. They're also being released in stages, with Wednesday being just step one. The animals were released into a protected enclosure at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Release Research Center.
Gradually, human intervention will be withdrawn and they'll be expected to eat and live on their own. Then, they'll be released into a fenced, wild hillside near the base that's been outfitted with cameras, so researchers can monitor their progress. If all goes well, said the China Daily, they'll then be released into the wild and allowed to live the rest of their lives normally.
The six pandas, Xing Rong, Xing Ya, Gong Zai, Ying Ying, Zhi Zhi and Qi Qi, are all between the ages of two and four.
The broader goal is to release 100 captive-bred panda into the wild over the next 50 years.