The poster child for endangered species: The giant panda

 

 

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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.

Photo courtesy of weblessons.com

Photo courtesy of weblessons.com

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.

 

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Photo courtesy of WWF

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.

Photo courtesy of China.org.cn

Photo courtesy of China.org.cn

 

For more information please see National Geographic  – the Giant Panda 

 

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The world’s rarest cat: The Amur leopard

In the Russian Far East, a rare subspecies of leopard, the Amur leopard, has adapted to life in the temperate forests and mountains.  It is also known as the Far East leopard or the Korean leopard.  The Amur leopard is teetering on the brink of extinction.  The species is threatened by poaching, encroaching civilisation and habitat loss due to forest exploitation.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

The Amur leopard is the rarest cat in the world.  According to WWF, there are only about 30 individuals in the world today.  As there is such a small population remaining, the loss of each leopard placing the species at a greater risk of extinction.

Amur leopards are critically endangered largely due to the illegal wildlife trade.  They are poached mainly for their remarkable spotted fur.  In 1999, an undercover investigation team found a female and male Amur leopard skin that were being sold for $500 and $1000 respectively in the village of Barabash, which was close to the Kedrovaya Pad Reserve in Russia.  Villages and agriculture surround the leopards’ natural habitat of forests.  Consequently, these forests are relatively accessible.  Amur leopards are most often killed by local Russians who live in small villages in and around the leopard habitat.  Most of the villagers hunt entirely illegally.  Poaching is therefore not only a problem for the leopards themselves, but also for important prey species, such as sika deer, roe deer and hare, as these are hunted by the villagers for cash and food.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

The prey base in the forest of the Amur Leopards’ habitat is insufficient for the leopards’ survival.  Prey populations could only recover if the use of their forests by local people is controlled and regulated.  Measures must also be taken to limit the poaching and hunting of hoofed prey species.  There are still large territories of suitable habitat for the Amur leopard both in Russia and China.  However, in China particularly, this significant shortage of prey cannot support large populations of leopards and tigers.  Efforts must be made to limit the poaching of prey species, and the logging of forests must be managed more sustainably, in order to make these large traits adequately habitable for the leopards.

Another acute concern for the Amur leopards is the problem of inbreeding.  This problem is further exasperated by the leopards having such a tiny population, as there are only about 20-25 leopards left in the wild today.  This remaining population could disappear as a result of genetic degeneration.  The levels of diversity are remarkably low, which indicates a history of inbreeding over several generations.  These levels of genetic reduction could impede health, survival and reproduction of some, but not all, genetically diminished small populations.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) is an initiative, made up of Russian and western conservation organisations, that works toward the conservation and protection of Amur leopards and tigers.  It works towards securing a future for these species in the Russian Far East and Northeast China.  ALTA collaborates with local, regional and federal government, and non-government organisations to protect the area’s biological wealth through sustainable development, conservation and local community involvement.  In this way, the extraordinary Amur leopard can hopefully be brought back from the brink of extinction, and onto the road of recovery.

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These men form part of the anti-poaching brigade of the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve. The work towards protecting the Amur leopard from poachers. Photo courtesy of WWF

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Photo courtesy of WWF

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Photo courtesy of WWF