DIVERSITY AND THE SURVIVAL OF THE PANDA SPECIES (COMMENT). Diversity is a big problem for zookeepers trying to encourage endangered species. Nick commented on yesterday’s post on pandas about a conversation he had with our friend Tanner, who has been a zookeeper, on the diversity problem in another species, the Amur leopard.

A problem for maintaining diversity for pandas in the wild is that while protection of pandas has increased steadily so that there are now 67 protected panda reserves in China, the number of pandas in a colony can be quite small. This article entitled “Survival of the cutest” in the Economist (September 10) says that the wild panda population of some 1864 pandas is “fragmented into 33 subgroups, 18 of which have just ten or fewer animals….Moreover, these groups are isolated from one another. This limits their gene pool and makes them disease-prone.”

The algorithm for choosing panda mates that I mentioned in yesterday’s post is used to create more diversity in pandas bred in zoos.

The Economist article is upbeat about efforts to save the panda.The first paragraph in the article announces the good news that an environmental group has recently changed the rating for pandas from “’endangered’ (meaning with a high risk of extinction in the wild) to ‘vulnerable’ (ie, to becoming endangered).”

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