People, Travel

Panda Population on the Rise

Panda Population on the RisePanda Population on the Rise

According to a new census in China, the population of the animals has gone up by 268 since 2003, taking their total numbers to 1,864 – an increase of nearly 17 per cent. The bears have also extended their territory to more than 2.5m hectares – a 12 per cent increase.

Nicola Loweth, conservation group WWF UK’s regional officer for India and China, said: “The increase in population is due to the implementation of a number of successful conservation actions by the Chinese government, nature reserve staff and local communities,” The Independent reported.

She said that the panda population’s growth had wider benefits. “This news is not just about giant pandas. We’re also talking about their habitats. It means that very important eco-systems are being protected for a whole range of other species.”

Their numbers are thought to have been boosted by the establishment of the Giant Panda Nature Reserve Network, measures to ban logging in certain areas and steps to reduce poaching. The number of designated nature reserves has also been increased from 40 to 67 since 2003, so that about two-thirds of the wild panda population now live in protected areas.

But giant pandas, which live in China’s south-western provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu, are still classed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Loweth said a new problem was emerging, which was overtaking habitat loss, illegal logging and poaching as the main threat to the species: “Their habitat has been fragmented [by physical barriers such as roads] quite substantially. Breeding can become more difficult because it is harder for pandas to move between isolated patches of habitat,” she said.

The animals’ low rate of reproduction and small litters remain problems facing the survival of the species. Loweth said that because numbers had fallen so low “it takes a long time for populations to then recover”.

For China, pandas are a symbol of diplomacy – often gifted to other countries to foster international ties. Loans of the animals to zoos around the world have also provided an additional source of income for the country. “The pandas internationally are diplomatic tools for China and have been for half a century, so they can’t be seen to be letting pandas disappear in the wild,” said science writer Jules Howard. “Nowadays China’s focus is on captive breeding for release back into the wild. If the wild is not safe, the whole international project is undermined.”

The panda population had fallen so low that some wildlife experts have begun to suggest they should be left to die out.