FWD: (CN) China's Giant Pandas Face Relentless Human Threats
Apr 8 2001 9:18AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's giant panda may be able to escape
extinction, experts say, despite the human onslaught on their
mountainous habitat and lack of data on how many of the beloved
black-and-white creatures remain in the wild.
"If you look at the big picture, this is a time for guarded optimism,
more so than ever before, about the giant panda's future," said Karen
Baragona, the World Wildlife Fund's giant panda conservation program
A study released last Thursday by researchers at Michigan State
University and collaborators in China cast doubt on the effectiveness
of efforts to protect the endangered giant pandas, detailing the
ongoing destruction of prime habitat in Wolong Nature Reserve. It is
the largest protected area for the conservation of the giant panda,
whose range now consists of only half a dozen mountain ranges in
But the study found that the human population within the reserve had
grown by 70 percent since Wolong was created in 1975, and that
downing of trees for fuel wood, farming, tourism and other human
activities had eradicated prime panda habitat.
"It's a dire situation, but I think this is a major opportunity to be
involved with pandas and try to work with the Chinese in getting some
things turned around," said Don Lindberg, who heads the giant panda
team at the San Diego Zoo. "We always have to hope. None of us will
settle for extinction of the wild population and just a few living in
zoos left for future generations. That is completely unacceptable."
Baragona said she has reason to be hopeful, noting that the number of
reserves for pandas has more than doubled since 1993, currently
standing at 32. That is "a very significant milestone for the Chinese
government," she said.
Baragona also said that since 1998 there has been a complete
moratorium on commercial logging in the entire range of the giant
panda, which provides the opportunity to protect and restore panda
habitat even outside the reserves. She said more technical and
financial support than ever before is flowing into China from
international organizations and zoos.
"THINGS ARE IMPROVING"
"Efforts are intensifying. The Chinese government has elevated giant
panda conservation to a higher level than ever before. I think
conservationists are working harder than ever before. The quality of
reserve management is improving. Things won't just stay the same.
Things are improving," she said.
Giant pandas are perhaps the most unusual of the world's eight
species of bears. Their diet consists almost entirely of various
bamboo species found in high-mountain areas.
No precise numbers exist for how many live in the wild. The last
official estimate was made in the 1980s, placing the population at
somewhere around 1,000. Chinese survey teams have been in the field
since 1999 carrying out a panda census. Results are due in the middle
of next year, the WWF said.
"There may be more pandas than we've been led to believe," Lindberg
said. "On the other hand, the worry is that there will be
substantially fewer when the census numbers come out next year."
International groups such as the WWF and zoos around the world are
helping to bankroll conservation efforts in China. Baragona said the
WWF provides about $1 million in support annually in the form of
training and support in the reserves.
Zoos with pandas on loan from China are chipping in. Lindberg said
his zoo gives China $1 million annually for two adult pandas and
$600,000 annually for a cub born a year and a half ago, with the
money earmarked for panda conservation. Zoos in Washington and
Atlanta have similar arrangements.
GOOD INTENTIONS, LOUSY RESULTS
Jianguo Liu, who led the Michigan State study, said good intentions
on the part of the Chinese government have not always yielded good
"Everybody loves pandas," Liu said. "To be fair, the government has
spent a lot of time, a lot of attention and a lot of money to protect
the habitat for the pandas. But even so, the results are not
exciting. So there are some ways that we could do better."
For example, he said the government could reverse the growing human
population within the reserves by providing better educational
opportunities, allowing young people to attend technical schools and
colleges and obtain jobs outside the reserve.
Liu said that if only 22 percent of the reserve's young people
relocated as a result of attending college, getting married or taking
outside jobs, the human population in the Wolong reserve would be
reduced from 4,260 now to about 700 by the year 2047, and the giant
panda habitat would recover and increase by 7 percent.
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