As part of its conservation programme, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (PNHZP) is all set to release four captive-bred red pandas in the Singallila National Park on 26 November. The PNHZP, popularly known as the Darjeeling Zoo, had some months ago identified Ram, Shifu, Smile and Numa for the process of “rewilding.”

“The red pandas will be released on November 26th in Gairibas, which falls under the Singalila National Park,” said Shiramoni Syangden, the PNHZP estate officer, who added that this is basically a process of augmentation of the panda population in the wild, also known as re-stocking. The process of releasing them in the wild includes “re-wilding.” which is acclimatization of the animals for life in the wild.

Sources maintained that the four red pandas have been given natural feeds without any supplements and were kept mostly away from human touch and interactions. The process of soft release will also be followed where the animals will first be acclimatized to the area where they are to be released. The animals will be monitored for possible disease outbreak, predators and feeding habits in the new environment.

The released red pandas will also be tagged with radio collars to track them before their final release after a couple of months. “We have already created a facility in Gairibas. We will have our staffs strictly supervising the movement of the animals,” Mr Syangden said. The red pandas are in the list of animals threatened with extinction worldwide.

The World Wildlife Organization estimates the red panda population at less than 10,000, while the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) has listed the animal as “endangered” because of its depleting population.

As part of the red panda programme taken up by the PNHZP in the year 1983, four red pandas have been release in the Singalila National Park during the period of 2002-2004, which include Sweety, Millie, Dolma and Nilam. One of them also reportedly gave birth to an offspring.

Currently, Darjeeling Zoo has about 23 (12 females, eight male and three unidentified) red pandas in captivity. The State forest minister Rajib Banerjee will reach Gairibas on November 26 for the release of the pandas, it is learnt.