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“As pointless as taking off the pants in order to fart,” is how one expert has branded panda conservation efforts. Despite the serious amount of cash, time and energy injected into saving the bamboo-munchers from their march towards extinction, frustratingly nothing seems to work. Not even panda porn can help them go forth and multiply.

But they, like many other fluffy cuddly animals, have won the hearts and wallets of many, consequently receiving a disproportionate amount of conservation resources. Is this a big fat waste of money? Many have argued so, but perhaps a new study will invite a rethink. According to the results, many other threatened species live in the same areas as giant pandas, so preserving these regions inadvertently also offers these more neglected animals protection.

This encouraging piece of research comes from researchers at Duke University who decided to investigate the idea that pandas offer a sort of “protective umbrella” to other species at risk. To do this, they plowed through hundreds of maps that detailed the residences of various amphibians, birds and mammals in China. They chose to focus on those that can’t be found in any other country because endemic species generally to inhabit small areas and thus are the most vulnerable to extinction.

After picking out those that, like pandas, live in forests, they mapped out their ranges based on the elevation they are known to inhabit combined with remote sensing data that identified areas unscathed by logging activities. This helped them identify the richest 5% of these areas – essentially “hotspots” for the species – and see how they related to panda habitats. Finally, they superimposed this information onto existing maps and panda nature reserves to identify overlapping areas.

As described in Conservation Biology, more than 96% of panda habitat coincided with the hotspots of the endemic species examined, which included the golden snub-nosed monkey and the Tibetan macaque. Perhaps most importantly, only one of these species, a bird, was found outside panda nature reserves.

“Many people have worried that in protecting the giant panda, we might be neglecting other species,” lead author Binbin Li said in a statement, “but this isn’t the case.”

The study is also important because it highlights a number of species that are currently inadequately protected but listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List. Furthermore, they identified 30 species that concentrate in currently unprotected areas that are not inhabited by pandas. The data could therefore be used to guide future plans for further nature reserves in order to offer vulnerable species the protection they need. 

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