China's most famous athlete is giving back to the wildlife world.

Yao Ming, retired from the NBA's Houston Rockets, helped release six giant pandas into the wilderness of China's Sichuan province this week in an important move that will hopefully help the future of the species.

New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television reports the goal is to replenish the giant panda population in the world. These six pandas, between the ages of 2 and 4 years old, were carefully chosen from 108 of the animals at a base in Chengdu. Researchers spent a year observing the animals to see which would be best for the project.

Only 1,600 endangered giant pandas are believed to live in the wild, according to the AP. More than 300 pandas are in breeding programs in China.

Yao, known as a conservation advocate in the People's Republic of China, believes equilibrium is key. "I think it is most important to keep a balance between modern living and nature. We have been talking about it for many years but it is never an easy thing to do," Yao said.

The six pandas have learned to find their own food, instead of depending on breeders. Panda experts believe more bears in the wild will cut down on inbreeding.

Houston made the 7-6 Yao the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft. He would go on to become an eight-time NBA All-Star and two-time All-NBA second-teamer before injuries shortened his career.

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