The number of wild pandas in China has increased from 1600 to 1864 individuals over the past decade. This is an increase of just under 17 percent, according to the Chinese government’s largest pandan bill ever published today.
WWF has been working on projects for the pandas since the 1980s and welcomes the positive figures from the country’s forest authority.
– The numbers are gratifying. It is a success story that has taken place over the course of almost ten years and shows that nature conservation pays off, says Håkan Wirtén, secretary general of WWF.
The wild giant panda, which is also a symbol of WWF, lives only in southwest China’s inaccessible mountain areas in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. The primeval forest is wedged between the agricultural landscape, which is rapidly expanding upwards, and the treeless high mountain masses on the Tibetan high plateau.
The inventory and the panda bill – the National Giant Panda Survey – are the fourth ever. It shows an increase of the pandas by just over 16 percent compared to the last count in 2003. The pandan reserve now covers about 2.58 million hectares, which corresponds to an area large as Norrbotten.
Today, there are 67 pan reserves in China, which hold 70 percent of the pandas. 27 new reserves of more than 1 million hectares have been added in the last decade. The pandas are divided into 24 subpopulations, most of which have fewer than 50 animals. In many, there are only a handful of individuals who run the risk of dying before the year 2100 The
inventories in the panda forests are the most extensive ever. The trackers have made use of spillage, DNA technology and images from camera traps.
– This is a receipt for nature conservation efforts to pay off. In cooperation with Chinese researchers and authorities, WWF has mapped out the most important panda forests and developed plans for panda sanctuaries and corridors between the forests. The ban on logging became the big turnaround for efforts to save the pandas, says Allan Carlson, a conservation expert at WWF.
But despite the successes, major challenges remain. Fragmentation of habitats, mining, hydropower, tourism and infrastructure are obvious threats as well as climate change and the pressure of a growing population. The earthquake on May 12, 2012 devastated large areas in just a few seconds as it rattled around the rock mass.
Another sneaky threat is the fact that the panda specializes in a diet consisting of bamboo shoots. Because the diet is one-sided, huge quantities of bamboo are required. It has therefore developed an extra thumb on the front feet which makes it easier to get hold of the bamboo shoots. The giant panda uses about 14 of the 24 hours of the day to look for food and to eat up to 14 kg of bamboo per day, the rest of the time it sleeps.