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School of Veterinary Medicine Team Joins Scientists at Giant Panda Research Base in China

Panda UltrasoundJuly 29

Autumn Davidson (Class of 1985), a clinical professor of medicine at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and Tom Baker, the principle ultrasonographer at the school's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital visited the Chengdu (China) Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding June 14-28, 2004, as members of a Chinese-American collaborative research team evaluating the health of the endangered giant panda.

The collaboration was organized by veterinarians and scientists from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park (Drs. Lucy Spelman [Class of 1990], David Wildt, JoGayle Howard and Kati Loeffler, and translator Mabel Lam), and included representatives from Zoo Atlanta (Dr. Rita McManamon [Class of 1984]), the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, the Chengdu (China) Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding (Drs. Zhang Zhihe, Hou Rong, Wang Cheng Dong and Louli) and the San Diego Zoo (Dr. Alan Pessier).

The purpose of the project was to conduct one of the first extensive medical diagnostics workshops exclusively at the Chengdu Research Base with veterinary colleagues in China to develop clinical databases for the endangered giant panda. Project members performed comprehensive health evaluations for 13 giant pandas and provided specialized medical expertise in physical examinations, inhalant anesthesia and other diagnostic procedures.

Panda Researchers"The opportunity to work with the Chinese on an international team promoting survival of their endangered giant panda is certainly one of the highlights of my veterinary career," Davidson recalls. Davidson was invited to conduct the first known gastrointestinal endoscopic examinations on giant pandas.

Baker performed abdominal ultrasonographic evaluations on the animals, surveying multiple pandas of various ages and both sexes for the first time at one facility. Baker notes, “It was a fabulous experience working with such a unique animal and alongside the great group of individuals at Chengdu. The Chinese culture is so old and wonderful, and the people so warm and giving. I can’t wait to go back.” The team established successful techniques for maintaining pandas under gas anesthesia for 2-3 hours and recorded the normal and abnormal appearance of abdominal organs as imaged with ultrasound and endoscopy. Results of analysis of blood and tissue samples taken during the project are pending.

The youngest panda was nine months old; the oldest was 17 years old. Of the approximately 45 pandas at the Chengdu research facility, 11 have been bred this year, and cubs are due in September. The mission of the facility is the establishment of a self-perpetuating population of giant pandas to support those in the wild.

Panda Observation"The data gathered in this project will increase our knowledge of panda health significantly. We look forward to further collaboration to protect this important wildlife species," Davidson says. She states that project members hope to follow this workshop with similar "training" workshops to elevate the level of veterinary knowledge, techniques, and technical equipment throughout Chinese zoos and panda-holding institutions, complementing the success the Chinese have had in captive propagation of the endangered giant panda.

The Smithsonian Institution sponsored the expedition through grant funding. Please visit the Smithsonian National Zoo for more information about giant pandas.  

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