CHINA - It didn't take long for panda Zhang Xiang to take her first steps into the wild.
Kept in her cage for four days before her release on Wednesday morning at Liziping Nature Reserve in Sichuan province, the 2-year-old panda had her hip facing the door when Wu Daifu, a panda expert, tried to let her out.
"She was getting more and more impatient after being kept in the cage for so many days and she was scratching the iron railings of the cage with her claws," said Wu, who dressed in a panda costume to lure Zhang Xiang out.
Despite her impatience, the panda was hesitant when the door opened, preferring to sit near the cage and look around. Eventually, after casually walking around for a bit, the third panda in China to be sent back to the wild ran and disappeared into the forests.
The release lasted just two minutes, but it was a moment panda handlers had waited 26 months for.
Soon after Zhang Xiang was born, handlers began preparing for her release into the wild by placing her and her mother, Zhang Ka, at a base larger than 30 football fields at Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan.
"On Oct 23, the State Forestry Administration held a meeting for panda experts, who agreed that Zhang Xiang, who weighed 40 kg, could be released into the wild because she knew how to find food, water and shelter by herself," said Zhang Hemin, chief of the administrative bureau of Wolong.
Zhang Xiang is the third panda to be released by China into the wild in seven years.
Another panda that was released into the wild, Xiang Xiang, had a difficult time after his release.
Born in August 2001, Xiang Xiang returned to the wild at Wolong on April 28, 2006, after almost three years in captivity. On February 19, 2007, his body was found in the woods, with broken ribs and injuries to his ears and back. Researchers suspected he had taken refuge in a tree after fighting with wild pandas but had fallen.