The majestic and peaceful giant panda, with its distinctive black and white coat, is considered to be a national treasure in China, and is adored throughout the world. The giant panda is seen as a sort of ambassador for all endangered species, as it is a well-recognized symbol of international wildlife conservation. It has been the famous WWF logo since its founding in 1961.
The panda is the rarest member of the bear family. Wild pandas only live in isolated mountainous regions of central China, where the high bamboo forests are wet and cool. They have an insatiable appetite for bamboo, and eat 9 to 12 kilograms of it every day. Pandas play an important role in the forests where they live, as they spread seeds and facilitate growth of vegetation. The pandas’ habitat is in the geographic and economic heart of China, which is home to millions of people. In order to increase the quality of life for the local populations, this area needs to be more sustainable. Pandas bring significant economic benefits to local communities through ecotourism.
The Yangtze Basin in China is the panda’s main habitat. However, the habitat is the heart of booming China. Railways and roads are increasingly fragmenting the forest, and this isolates panda populations and inhibits mating. Forest destruction also reduces the bamboo resources which pandas need to survive. The Chinese government has established over 50 reserves for the pandas, but only about 61% of China’s panda population is protected by the reserves.
According to WWF, there are about 1600 giant pandas left in the world today, which categorize them as Endangered species. By the end of 2006, there were 180 pandas reported in captivity in Mainland China, and about 20 in other countries. Hunting continues to be an ever-present threat. The poaching of pandas for their fur has been reduced due to strict regulations and greater public awareness of the pandas’ protected status. However, there are hunters seeking to hunt other animals in panda habitats, and pandas are killed accidentally.
Working towards protecting the giant panda includes increasing the area of panda habitat under legal protection; patrolling against illegal logging, encroachment and poaching; creating green corridors to connect isolated pandas; continued monitoring, research and establishing local capacities for nature reserve management. WWF has been assisting the Chinese government’s National Conservation Program for the giant panda and its habitat. This has resulted in the reserves now covering over 3.8 million acres of forest.
For more information please see National Geographic – the Giant Panda