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The panda, with its unique black and white coat, is loved by all in the world. Most of all, it is a treasured national icon in China. This bear further has a distinct importance for WWF as it has been their logo since their establishment in 1961.
Pandas reside mostly in pleasant forests high in the mountains of southwest China, where they survive practically only on bamboo. They must consume about 26 to 84 pounds of it daily, depending on what section of the bamboo they are eating. They use their huge wrist bones that work as opposable thumbs.
A baby panda when born is very small—about 1/900th the size of its mother—however females can grow up to around 200 pounds, whereas males can grow up to about 300 pounds when fully grown. These bears are outstanding tree climbers in spite of their weight.
The giant panda exists in some mountain ranges in central China, largely in Sichuan, but are also found in nearby Shaanxi and Gansu too. Because of agriculture, deforestation, and other industrial expansion, the giant panda has been forced out of the low-altitude ranges where it once was. It is now for the most part a conservation-reliant species.
A 2007 study disclosed 239 pandas existing in captivity within China and an additional 27 outside the republic. As of December 2014, 49 giant pandas resided in captivity outside China, living in 18 zoos in 13 different nations.
Wild population estimations differ; one guess indicates that around 1,590 individual giant pandas exist in the wild. Another 2006 report using DNA analysis projected that this number could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000. Some information similarly illustrates that the amount of giant pandas in the wilderness is on the rise.
A Dwindling Haven
The giant panda was earlier prevalent all through southern and eastern China. It also existed in nearby regions of Myanmar and northern Vietnam.
However, because of increasing human populations and industrial expansion, the habitat has decreased. The species is now confined to almost 20 isolated sections of bamboo forest in six mountain ranges. These forests are in China’s Gansu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan provinces.
The majority of the remaining wild pandas live in the Minshan and Qinling highlands. It is in these places that WWF has concentrated its giant panda conservation efforts. it has backed up the Chinese administration’s plans to save the species.
Destruction of habitat poses the most grave danger to the panda population. Thus it is most important to create new reserves and expand current ones to ensure its continued existence.
After a noteworthy surge in recent years, China today boasts a system of 67 panda reserves. These protect more than 66% of the giant pandas in the wild and as much as 54% of their current habitation.
The Chinese government, in coordination with WWF, has also created bamboo corridors. These interconnect sequestered patches of forest, permitting the pandas inside them to move to new parts. In doing so, they can find more food, and meet more possible breeding companions.
These mountains make for a natural wall between the thickly inhabited southern and eastern provinces of China and the great wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau, the biggest and highest in the world.
The Minshan Mountains course alongside the north of the Great Sichuan plain and to the east of the Tibetan Plateau. Scattered through the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, they are a part of one of the most significant watersheds in China.
They also host loads of giant pandas with PingWu County, boasting the largest density of wild pandas in the world.
On the other hand, the Minshan Mountains’ glorious forests are a crucial habitat not only for giant pandas but also for an abundance of other species. Together with the beautiful multi-colored pheasants and dwarf blue sheep.
The mountains are a part of China’s most important watershed. It directs rainwater into both of the country’s well-known rivers, the Yellow and the Yangtze.
Located in Shaanxi Province, the Qinling Mountains create a natural barrier between northern and southern China. They shield the south from the freezing northern climate.
The warm precipitation on the southern slopes provides for an illustrious range of plants and animals. Together with a few hundred pandas, the mountains are also a habitat for other threatened species. These include the crested ibis, takin, and golden monkey among the inhabitants.
In addition to being extremely rich in natural resources, the mountains, too, possess an extensive civilization history, dating back thousands of years.
Breeding and Population
By nature, the giant panda is an introvert animal. They have developed a sense of smell through which they can find female pandas for mating and avoid meeting the males. The pregnancy period of a giant panda is 5 months. After which they give birth to one or two cubs.
The infant pandas do not weigh a lot, 5 ounces mostly. They start to crawl at the age of three months. The infant pandas are white when they are born. They tend to develop a black color as they grow.
Thanks to the increased conservation efforts and improvised survey methods, there is a noticeable increase in the population of wild pandas. Zoos worldwide have lots and lots of pandas living there and are one of the most famous tourist attractions.
Researchers have claimed that much of their research involves the studying of zoo pandas. This is because these wild and extremely rare species are conveniently available at the zoo.
A panda is a very lazy-looking animal who is always just sitting in a relaxed manner. They often have their legs stretched out in front of them which makes them more comfortable. Some may feel that they are lazy but actually, they are very skilled. They are excellent tree climbers and active swimmers as well.
A big threat to the giant panda population is humanity. Living in the mountains of China, pandas are hunted in order to obtain their fur. Another threat is habitat loss which results from deforestation and clearance of land. Moreover, climate change is continuously killing bamboo, which is 99% of a panda’s diet.
Giant Panda Conservation
There have been a number of steps taken by China to protect the giant pandas.
1. Habitat Protection
The very first step in protecting giant pandas is to save their habitat. Without a habitat, no animal can survive for a long time. In regards to saving the habitat, the Chinese government has come up with 13 panda nature reserve areas.
Those areas are farming fields that will grow back as forests. Bamboo trees have been growing well and the panda habitat is recovering.
Furthermore, there is a conservation staff who lives in these reserve areas. They are there to rescue the pandas who are ill or those who might be starving. They also ensure that the giant pandas are not hunted.
2. Captive Breeding
The main giant panda habitat is the Qionglai Mountains. When most of the bamboo died there, the giant pandas starved, and that was when the Chengdu Zoo rescued them. Later, the Chengdu Panda Center came into being for researching giant pandas.
In 1987, there were 6 starving pandas taken by the center for breeding. They have bred 150 pandas since then. Panda research centers focus only on research and breeding. Several panda centers across Chengdu do breeding. They also raise awareness about the importance of protecting giant pandas. And they do research around helping giant panda species survive.
Also, Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries in Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains are like a panda haven. More than 30% of the world’s species live there. The sanctuaries have become a vital place for breeding pandas in captivity. For more information on this, consider having a look at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1213/
3. Laws and Penalties
According to China’s Wild Animal Protection Law, giant pandas are a first-class protected species. In China, the Giant Panda is a national animal and more like a treasured asset.
There has been a lot of hunting and smuggling of giant pandas in the past years. This is why the Chinese government has made strict laws and stiff penalties in order to protect them. There is a minimum jail sentence of 10 years for the one who hunts or smuggles giant pandas.
Moreover, in extreme cases, life imprisonment and the death penalty are also possible.