Giant panda bear

Giant panda bear

According to a study performed by WWF and the State Forestry Administration of China, there are currently almost 1,600 wild giant panda bear in China. This figure, which was made public in 2004, surprised many panda experts since it was higher than estimated, and it shows that despite continuous habitat loss due to human developments, the conservation efforts in China have been successful. According to the study, the amount of wild giant panda bear is 50 percent higher than previously believed. The 1,600 giant panda bear individuals are spread over 14,000 square miles of temperate forest.    

Completing the study required several years of field work and then additional months of data analysis. Field staff had to venture into the rough mountainous terrain where the last giant panda bear populations live. A long time ago, wild giant panda bear could be found in Vietnam, Burma and large parts of southern and eastern China, but today the remaining population is confined to six mountain ranges along the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. These six mountain ranges are located in the Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces in China and are covered in temperate forests.

To promote further growth of the giant panda bear population, one of the main goals is to reconnect the patches of land that still contain wild pandas. Today, the giant panda bear populations in the six mountain regions are separated from each other by human development. There are currently over 20 different small panda habitats in this region that are not connected with each other. This situation can lead to inbreeding and loss of valuable genetic diversity. If these small panda habitats were linked together, it would be easier for the giant panda bear to find a suitable mate and adequate bamboo supplies. Inbreeding can cause a wide range of problems for the giant panda bear, including less adaptability to new conditions, a weaker immune system and decreased fertility.

Being able to migrate to new regions in search of food is important for the giant panda bear, since some bamboo species die after flowering. This means that a former bamboo rich area can turn into a virtually bamboo-free habitat, and the giant panda bear must then travel to a new area where the bamboo have not yet flowered, or find bamboo of a different species. Many species of bamboo flowers very seldom and it can take them 10-100 years or more before they develop a flower. Once they have flowered and produced seed, they will however die and leave the giant panda bear without food. All the bamboo plants of the same species will flower simultaneously in a large geographical area.

Habitat loss is one of the biggest problems for the current giant panda bear population. Growing human settlements and improper use of natural resources in the Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces causes the giant panda bear populations to become more and more isolated. The temperate forest regions where the giant panda bear lives are rapidly turned into farmland, or heavily exploited for timber and fuelwood. Poaching still occurs in China, but the custom of catching giant panda bear has been heavily decreased. The giant panda bear is protected by Chinese law and a poacher that is caught can face severe punishment. Panda hunters and smugglers have even been sentenced to death. Even just a few poachers can affect the giant panda bear population negatively, since there are no more than 1,600 wild pandas left in China.

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