Marking 25 years of wild panda conservation
23 Dec 2005, Washington, DC – This month marks WWF’s 25th anniversary of wild panda conservation in China. On December 23, 1980, WWF and Chinese researchers headed into the cold mountains of southwestern China to conduct the first-ever intensive research programme on wild pandas, their habitat and their behaviour. A quarter century of work moved giant pandas from the brink of extinction to a solid foundation for survival if conservation efforts continue.
According to the results of a survey conducted by WWF and China’s State Forestry Administration, there are nearly 1,600 pandas in the wild, over 40 per cent more animals than previously thought to exist. The last panda survey in the 1980s found around 1,100 giant pandas in the wild.
“Contrary to popular myth, wild panda conservation is really about saving their forest homes, not improving their breeding,” said Karen Baragona, head of the Species Conservation Programme at WWF-US. “We are making sure that pandas have a safe and healthy place to live.”
Protecting panda habitat means protecting some of the richest temperate forests on Earth that shelter more than 100 other mammals, 250 bird species, and thousands of other animals as well as the water supply for 400 million Chinese people.
“The most pressing threat to wild pandas is habitat fragmentation from economic development activities like road construction and timber extraction,” said Baragona.
Across the panda’s range, habitat is fragmented into many isolated patches — some just narrow belts of bamboo 1,000–1,200m in width. Within these patches, a network of some 60 nature reserves protects nearly half of the panda’s habitat. Small, isolated populations have less flexibility to find new feeding areas during periodic bamboo die-offs. WWF works with the Chinese government to reduce threats to panda habitat, restore forests and reconnect isolated patches by establishing new panda reserves in critical corridor areas.
Protecting panda habitat sometimes requires unusual efforts. Communities living on the outskirts of panda reserves often extract fuelwood — illegally but of necessity — from inside the reserves, amounting to about three tons a year per household. In several pilot sites, WWF has offered farmers energy efficient stoves fueled by manure. Reconfigured pig sties and restrooms capture waste in a reactor tank and the gas produced in the tank is fed to stoves for cooking. With waste from just two pigs, a family can cook three times a day for at least ten months of the year without taking fuelwood from surrounding forests. People are happy with the arrangement because it saves the time and effort of collecting fuelwood, their food cooks faster, and odor and insects have been virtually eliminated from pig sties and toilets. Now the provincial government is considering subsidizing widespread conversion to biogas stoves.
WWF became the first global conservation organization to work in China and opened the door to new conservation opportunities that benefit wildlife, places and people in the world’s most populated and fastest growing nation.
Over the past twenty-five years, WWF achieved numerous conservation successes in China — from laying the foundation for a scientific panda conservation plan to bringing Pere David’s Deer back home to protecting millions of hectares of critical wetlands under the Ramsar Convention.
Small conservation achievements underlay larger ones. For example, WWF helped local villagers make and oversee plans for restoring reclaimed farmland to its former wetland state near Dongting Lake in Hunan Province. Villagers also participated in developing alternative livelihoods compatible with wetland conservation, establishing fish breeding and eco-agriculture associations. Over the course of this WWF restoration project, household incomes increased fivefold.
But, there are many challenges to building a sustainable future for China. WWF is still working to halt biodiversity loss in China, stop the degradation of freshwater systems and water quality, and build a culture of sustainability among other efforts.
- Contact Information
- Caroline Liou
- Deputy Communications Manager
- WWF China
- Contact via E-mail
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