Bamboo-zling scene: Chinese researchers dressed in panda costumes carry bear to new home to learn how to live in the wild


Bearing a heavy load: Researchers dressed in panda costumes carry 21-month old Giant Panda Tao Tao to a new home to begin the next stage of his rehabilitation to the wild

At first glance you might mistake this for a scene from the world's worst Giant Panda lookalikes convention.
But in fact the four men in panda costumes are all researchers at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in the Sichuan province of China carrying out an important job in the rehabilitation of a Giant Panda to the wild.
The costumes are an attempt to limit the interaction Tao Tao, who has been raised in captivity, has with humans - so whenever researchers get close they don the distinctive black and white costumes.
The 21-month-old bear and his mother Cao Cao had to be carried for 90 minutes to a field training area more than 2,400 metres above sea to begin the next stage in the difficult process of returning to the wild.

Bearing up ok: A researcher squats down after opening up the bamboo cage door to give Tao Tao a first glimpse of his new environment 2,400 - 2,800 metres above sea level

Wires surround the area, which covers 240,000 square metres and there are 200 cameras to monitor Tao Tao and his mother.
When the researchers arrived at the bears' new home the cages were opened and both ran away and disappeared immediately.
Tao Tao will now be trained to get to know other pandas as well as animals such as the boar, lesser panda and masked civet.
Models of the Giant Pandas' natural enemy the Giant Snow Leopard that can produce the sound of the genuine snow leopard will be sent into the area to get the animal used to sensing danger.

Round of a-paws: As the researcher steps away from the cage Tao Tao tentatively emerges to check out his new environment

It is yet to be decided whether Tao Tao will be returned to the wild alone or together with his mother in the autumn.
The Giant Panda follows Xiang Xiang who was the first panda from the park to be released back into the wild in April 2006 after undergoing three years of training.
Unfortunately in February 2007, the five-year-old male panda was found dead, bringing an end to the first phase of the reserve's program.
Researchers believe Xiang Xiang fell from a high place after competing with other members of his species for territory and food.
In June 2010, the project resumed with the plan to train four pandas in three years and release one or two from captivity.

source: dailymail