Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

Preserving pandas: trading one issue for another

by Shelby Toth - Copy Editor
Mon, Oct 9th 2017 09:00 pm

Of course, good things only last so long. Pandas, who only just recently jumped off the endangered list, might find themselves back on it again. The reason? Their shrinking habitat.

        Back in September 2016, pandas were taken off the endangered species list and moved to the vulnerable list by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While this was great news at the time, new studies have shown a dramatic decrease in pandas’ natural habitats. According to The Washington Post, panda habitats decreased 4.9 percent from 1976 to 2001, and only increased a hair, 0.4 percent, since then. Not only that, but the average size of a habitat has gone down 24 percent from 1976 to 2001, and has increased only 1.8 percent.

        The more disruptive problem, though, is coming from the splitting of habitats. The number of forests in isolation has risen from less than 400 in 1976 to almost 550 in 2013, as reported by The Washington Post. And according to the World Wildlife Foundation, wild pandas are relegated to only 20 isolated patches of bamboo forests throughout six mountain ranges.

Many factors are playing into this, but the biggest one of all is the growing number of roads in China. This has caused the pandas to divide into multiple groups, which could bring trouble to their already small numbers if those groups mainly consist of one sex.

Now this leads us to ask ourselves; is there really a need for these new roads? I can’t imagine taking a slightly longer drive would be much to ask if it could help save an entire species from ceasing to exist.

There are other things that can drive the panda habitats down. Climate change is looking to affect every walk of life, and pandas are not excluded from that. Michigan State University Environmental Scientist Jianguo Liu said, “CO2 emissions outside China will contribute to global climate change and have impacts on the panda future.”

There are, of course, suggested ways to fix these problems. A paper published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution lists multiple efforts that can be made to help preserve panda life. It’s first suggested to set “ecological red lines”, or in other words, strict forest boundaries that prohibit destruction. This could definitely be affective, as we’ve already seen this style of law help pandas before. Pimm said it was a “huge positive step” when China ceased logging operations in the panda habitats 20 years ago, as reported by The Washington Post.

It was also suggested that areas within those red lines be included in panda reserves territory. This would help to keep control over the area. Another suggestion was for bridges or pathways to be made for pandas to go over or under roads. According to smithsonian.com, though, pandas are usually known to stay away from roads, so these bridges and tunnels would need to have enough distance from the roads to encourage pandas to travel on them.

Overall, though, these are great ideas that could help us keep pandas around a little bit longer. Those, coupled with China’s 67 panda preserves and captive breeding programs, could have us seeing pandas for years to come, and potentially even help pandas to be taken off the vulnerable list.

Photo of the Week