Photos of rare brown panda in China become Internet sensation

Aug. 26, 2013 at 4:21 PM
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BEIJING, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- A rare brown-and-white panda is being studied at a wildlife center in China where scientists say they're trying to solve the puzzle of its unusual color.

The four-year-old male, named Qizai ("Little Seven"), is one of only five brown pandas discovered since 1985 and the only one in captivity, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported Monday.

Qizai was first spotted as a two-month-old cub in a mountainous region of Shaanxi Province -- the only known area to contain brown pandas -- nearly four years ago. Around 20 percent of China's total panda population, around 300 animals, live in the region, researchers said.

One expert who has been conducting research in the region for 20 years suggests brown pandas may be a result of a recessive gene and inbreeding.

"The habitat in the Qinling Mountains is seriously fragmented and the population density is very high," Tiejun Wang, a spatial ecologist at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands, was quoted as saying by the journal Nature. "The brown pandas could be an indication of local inbreeding."

Panda keepers at the Foping Natural Nature Reserve research center, Qizai's home, plan to mate him next year to see whether he can pass on the gene, Xinhua reported.

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