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May 2002 - Article reproduced with kind permission of The WWF
LGVN Animals - Extinction

Giant Panda not yet out of the woods...


Six-year old male Panda eating bamboo, Wolong Nature Reserve,
China WWF-Canon/Susan A.MAINKA

Gland, Switzerland - The disappearance and fragmentation of its rugged mountain forest home are the "major extinction threats" to the endangered Giant Panda, says the WWF, the conservation organization.

Published recently to coincide with WWF's 40th anniversary, the report, Giant Pandas in the Wild, says that in Sichuan Province in China, where the greatest number of Giant Pandas struggle for survival, suitable habitat occupied by pandas shrank by 50 percent between 1974 and 1989. A survey in 1999 in one county in Sichuan revealed that since 1987 there has been a 30 percent decrease in panda habitat.

"Habitat fragmentation is especially dangerous for pandas, as they must adjust to the life cycles of bamboos, which flower and die periodically,'' said Dr Lu Zhi, co-author of the report and former co-ordinator of WWF's Panda Programme in China. "Small, isolated populations of Giant Pandas, whose diet consists almost entirely of various bamboo species found in high mountain areas, face a risk of inbreeding. This could lead to reduced resistance to disease, less adaptability to environmental change, and a decrease in reproductive rates."

WWF's latest species status report debunks the myth that 'sex is a problem' for pandas living in China's temperate forests. The report points out that field research has shown that Giant Pandas may live longer in captivity, but that breeding success is greater in the wild.

In their natural state, all adult females and males appear to be involved in breeding. Records from the November 1999 Panda Studbook show that only 28 per cent of adult pandas in captivity are breeding. The authors of the report indicate that protecting pandas in their natural habitat is indisputably the highest priority for conservation of this internationally known and loved, but highly endangered species.

"The range of the Giant Panda's ancestors, which used to also cover parts of Myanmar and northern Vietnam, is now restricted to half a dozen mountain ranges in China. Recent population declines are due to habitat loss,'' says Elizabeth Kemf, WWF's Species Conservation Information Manager and co-author of the report. "Poaching and accidental snaring of pandas also pose a great danger for such a small population."

There are around 1,000 Giant Pandas remaining in the wild and a new panda census is underway. The results of the three-year National Survey of the Giant Panda and its Habitat, started jointly by WWF in collaboration with the Chinese government in 1999, should set the trend for future conservation efforts.

WWF, the first international conservation organization to begin fieldwork in China in 1980, has supported a variety of activities over the past 21 years including participation in the first Giant Panda census and preparation with the government of a Giant Panda management plan. Following massive flooding in 1998 which devastated large areas of Panda habitat in Sichuan, state officials declared an indefinite ban on logging. The ban drove home the need to deal with the consequential economic loss and potential social conflicts facing panda conservation.

"The only hope for the future of the Giant Panda is to balance the needs of humans and the needs of the panda. Giant Pandas need vast areas of temperate mountain forests with lots of bamboo; people living in the vicinity of the animals need secure sources of income and better livelihoods; and China needs help from the world's people to protect its 'national treasure' for all of humankind," added Kemf. WWF believes that urgent action is required to identify and support creation of panda corridors to link isolated panda populations. In addition, the Chinese government needs to establish a permanent fund to combat chronic financial shortages in panda reserves.

For more information Dr Yu Changqing, Species Programme Officer, WWF China.Tel: 8610-6591-5732 to -37. Email: cqyu@mail.east.net.cn OR cqyu@mimi.cnc.ac.cn Li Ning, Panda Programme Communications Officer, WWF China. Tel: 8610-6591-5732 to -37. Email: lining@mailhost.cinet.com.cn Elizabeth Kemf, Species Conservation Information Manager, WWF International. Tel: +41 22 364 9424; E-mail: ekemf@wwfint.org Kyla Evans, Head of Press Office, WWF International. Tel: +41 22 364 9550; E-mail: kevans@wwfint.org

About the authors Lu Zhi, Associate Professor of Peking University, has been involved in field research on the Giant Panda and conservation projects in China since 1985. Between 1995 and 2000, she worked with WWF as its Panda Programme Co-ordinator, and is now a visiting scholar at Harvard University.
Elizabeth Kemf is Species Conservation Information Manager for WWF and a human geographer. She is co-author of WWF's Species Status Reports.
George B Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society, is author of the Foreword to Giant Pandas in the Wild. In December of 1980, supported by WWF, he initiated field studies together with his Chinese colleagues in Wolong Reserve in the Qionglai Mountains of Sichuan.

WWF Website

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