Populations Of Giant Pandas Rebound in China

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Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) have been categorized by the IUCN Red List as endangered since 1990. Conservation efforts to boost panda population levels have been met with a number of challenges and making meaningful gains has been slow. However, some good news has come at last, following the release of the fourth National Giant Panda Survey from China. The number of wild giant pandas has increased significantly, along with an increase in the animals’ geographical range as well.

Historically, the biggest threat to giant pandas has been habitat destruction. As land has been developed, access to mates and food sources has decreased. Pandas are not readily hunted, but they have been killed while humans set traps in order to hunt other animals.

The report found that while 1,596 pandas were counted in the 2003 National Giant Panda Survey, the number has grown to 1,864 individuals. Sixty-seven percent of these bears live on protected nature reserves, and there are 27 more reserves in existence than when the third survey was completed, with a current total of 67.

“The rise in the population of wild giant pandas is a victory for conservation and definitely one to celebrate,” said World Wildlife Federation Senior Vice President Ginette Hemley in a press release. “This is a testament to the commitment made by the Chinese government for the last 30-plus years to wild panda conservation. WWF is grateful to have had the opportunity to partner with the Chinese government to contribute to panda conservation efforts.”

While it is unmistakably good news that the number of giant pandas is increasing, there are some concerns that these numbers might not be able to last. While the total area of land the giant pandas occupy has gone up, the range is not continuous. With this land area fractured, the pandas might not be able to follow the availability of bamboo. Bamboo, their primary food source, does not have dependable growth, and pandas sometimes need to travel great distances to follow it. With disjointed protected ranges, this migration is not possible.

Additionally, not having a continuous range reduces the amount of potential mates that the giant pandas can come across. Increasing the number of giant pandas has been tricky because getting females to breed is notoriously challenging. Females are receptive to mates for only two days during the spring, so the males don’t have much room for error.

Some are also criticizing China’s true dedication to conservation. Giant pandas, and their plight with flirting with extinction, has become iconic for the country, and has generated a great deal of money. If pandas go from endangered to vulnerable, the amount of funds appropriated will decrease. Hopefully, pandas are not being intentionally repressed for this reason, but time will tell.

For your daily dose of cute, check out this mother panda with her cub as they walk past a WWF camera trap in Sichuan Anzihe Nature Reserve:

 

 

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