China releases 'survival trained' second panda into the wild

Researchers in panda suits waiting for giant panda Taotao to get into a cage, Sichuan province, 7 October 2012 Scientists devised a special training method for Taotao

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China has released a second giant panda bred in captivity into the wild after giving it special survival training, state-run media say.

The release of male panda Taotao, from a nature reserve in Sichuan province, follows that of Xiang Xiang in 2006, says Xinhua news agency.

Scientists are hoping that the two-year-old has enough skills to survive and help increase the panda population.

Xiang Xiang died in 2007 after he got into a fight with wild pandas.

Taotao's mother fed him and taught him basic skills. But scientists at the Wolong Nature Reserve also drew up a survival training schedule for Taotao.

Part of this involved handlers wearing panda suits to prevent familiarity with humans.

Zhang Hemin, a director at China's giant panda conservation centre, told Xinhua that Taotao "has lived and grown in semi-wild conditions since he was very little", compared to Xiang Xiang.

"This means its fighting capability and survival skills both improved significantly," he said.

However he said that nothing was certain, as Taotao would be facing natural enemies like other wild animals.

"Taotao is only the second such panda released to nature, and we remain at the experimental stage," Mr Zhang told Xinhua.

Only a few thousand wild pandas survive at best, and the species is classified as being endangered.

A Chinese forestry official said that China has 1,600 pandas in the wild and and 342 bred in captivity, Xinhua reported.

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