The Giant Panda Conservation Project

Although pandas are highly regarded and have a relatively low number of natural predators, they are an endangered species. Humans have severely threatened the panda’s existence also so that now there are fewer than 1,600 of them left in the wild. This peaceful creature with a distinctive black and white coat is adored by the world and considered a national treasure in China (WWF, 2013). The bear also is of special importance to the World Wildlife Fund. The panda has been WWF’s logo since its founding in 1961. This paper will examine the effectiveness of, and problems related to, the giant panda conservation efforts.

The rarest member of the bear family, pandas live mainly in bamboo forests high in the mountains of western China, where they subsist almost entirely on bamboo. They must eat from 26 to 84 pounds of it every day. China’s Yangtze Basin region, which holds the panda’s primary habitat, is the geographic and economic heart of this booming country. An increasing number of roads and railroads are being created throughout the forest, which isolates panda populations and prevents mating. Forest destruction also reduces pandas’ ability to access the bamboo they need to survive.

The Chinese government has established more than 50 panda reserves. However, only around 61 per cent of the country’s panda population is protected by these reserves. With the help of conservation organizations and other groups, they have protected more than 45 per cent of the last mountainous regions, equaling over 6,000 square miles of mountain and forest terrain known to be inhabited by wild pandas. They have also set aside corridors of new bamboo for their protection from domesticated animal grazing, and human interference (International, 2013).

Chengdu is known for being the hometown of the giant panda. Back in 1987, when it became apparent that pandas were seriously endangered in the wild, the Chinese created the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Starting with just six pandas from the wild, they’ve successfully bred more than 100 pandas. The work done at Chengdu and other breeding centers costs millions of dollars a year. Experts believe that of all species in the world, the giant panda is the one species in which the most money is being invested in to save.

This has lead some conservationists to argue that too much is being spent to save the giant panda. “I think we have to make tough choices,” British wildlife expert, Chris Packham, said. “I think that, ultimately, we have to be pragmatic as well as sentimental. You know, we can’t allow our heart to rule our conservation head… and if we channel this much into just one species, then many others which could be far better helped, many others not just species, but communities and ecosystems, could be better protected at the expense of one fluffy, cuddly bear” (Snow, 2013).

Packham is in the minority here, but more and more scientists are starting to agree with him. The Chinese government has had much success in educating the public about the future of the giant panda, by setting in place protection against poaching, and even gun control for the reserves. By educating the public, more and more pandas have been brought to the Research Center for recovery and medical care due to injuries or illness. Logging has been banned in the reserves and the bamboo corridors.

The roads providing access to the reserves are also being patrolled to help prevent anyone entering without express authority, for the care or study of the environment or the pandas. However, as Packham states, “Pandas are extraordinarily expensive to keep going. We spend millions and millions

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of pounds on pretty much this one species, and few others, when we know that the best thing we could do would be to look after the world’s biodiversity hotspots with greater care. ” His way of thinking is that without a habitat, there is nothing to work with.

His suggestion is that we take all the cash we spend on pandas and buy rainforests with it. He realizes that it is the natural response to want to spend money and time on the panda because they are so cute and cuddly. They just pull at peoples’ heart strings because of their appearance. The pandas are symbolic of what he refers to as single-species conservation: i. e. , a focus on one animal. This approach began in the 1970s with Save the Tiger, Save the Panda, Save the Whale, and so on, and it is now out of date.

His belief is that pandas have had a valuable role in raising the profile of conservation, but perhaps ‘had’ is the right word. Panda conservationists say that the panda is a flagship species. But we’re also conserving Chinese forests, where there are many other species. As long as this conservation works, Mr. Packham states that he is all for it. But some species are stronger than others. The panda is not a strong species of bear in his opinion. It has gone herbivorous and eats a type of food that isn’t ll that nutritious, and so is dying out little by little. It is susceptible to various diseases and, up until recently, has been almost impossible to breed in captivity. This species also has a very limited area of habitation, which is decreasing, since the Chinese population keeps finding ways to use their land. While Mr. Packham’s points are valid, it seems he ignores the fact that pandas play a crucial role in the bamboo forests where they roam by spreading seeds and facilitating growth of vegetation.

Also, in the Yangtze Basin where pandas live, the forests are home to wildlife such as dwarf blue sheep, multi-colored pheasants and other endangered species, including the golden monkey, and various birds that are not found anywhere else in the world (WWF, 2013), making the panda a very effective flag ship species, which is something that Packham himself stated was worth preserving. One belief is that large animals can be extremely useful in the cause for conservation. Smaller creatures often don’t need a big habitat to live in, so in conservation terms, it’s better to strive to save something further up the food chain.

By doing this, you are protecting a much larger area, which will also include the smaller animals. Pandas are a good example for the messages you want to put out on habitat conservation. We associate Borneo with the orangutans, the southern oceans with the blue whale, and the North with polar bears. So it is with China and the panda bears (Snow, 2013). Many revere the panda bear and their preservation is important to the Chinese culture. People respond to their situation, which does make a difference.

References

Benedictus, L. (2009). Should pandas be left to face extinction? | Environment | The Guardian. Latest US news, world news, sport and comment from the Guardian | guardiannews.com | The Guardian. Retrieved April 27, 2013, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/23/panda-extinction-chris-packham International, C. (2013). Threats to Pandas. Conservation International. Retrieved April 28, 2013, from http://www.conservation.org/learn/biodiversity/species/profiles/pandas/pandas/overview/Pages/threats.aspx Snow, K. (2013). Are giant pandas worth saving? – Rock Center with Brian Williams. Rock Center with Brian Williams.

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