Protecting Pandas: Can Conservation Make a Difference?

On National Panda Day, Charlie Bedwell examines the threats to the species and questions whether conservation efforts have helped the panda population to bounce back.

Today is National Panda day! So, let’s take a look at their journey…

In 1990, the great white panda was announced to be endangered. After years of deforestation, panda’s homes were damaged beyond repair. Where pandas had previously wandered through the bamboo forests of China, Vietnam, Laos and Burma, only those in China now survive.

Image Credits: Cimberley

But why were so many of the forests being cut down? Forests are destroyed to make way for industrial projects, farmland, mining and people. The population of China has doubled since 1960 and these people needed a home. It is often the case that forest are cut down to provide this. Whilst some animals have managed to adapt to this by moving on to new forests and feeding grounds, others struggle to do so.

One animal that has adapted particularly well to being brought closer to human civilisation is the racoon. Due to its robust digestive system, racoons can digest almost anything and do absolutely that by rummaging for leftover food in towns and cities. They are also small enough to hide and fast enough to run should someone unfriendly come looking for them.

Pandas unfortunately, do not have this option. They rely so heavily upon bamboo that their digestive system cannot digest much else. On top of this, they are large and slow creatures who cannot travel across towns to find new habitats as easily.

Pandas are picky eaters, and it turns out it doesn’t end there. They are also very selective when it comes to mating. Even if a panda finds a mate, there is no guarantee that they will deem them suitable. With fewer pandas in the wild and much farther to travel if you wish to reach them, pandas were reproducing less and less. With a slow reproduction rate and the adverse effects of deforestation, the panda population was decreasing at an alarming rate with only 1596 pandas left in the wild in the early 2000s.

Image Credits: qgadrian

The final cause for the reduction in wild pandas, and one of the most harmful for the panda population, was poaching. Panda skins were sold for a huge sum and with numbers as low as they were, every single poached panda posed an enormous risk to the future of the population. But in the mid-2000s, things started to change.

With panda numbers dwindling, China and wildlife organisations around the world decided it was time to step up. The panda has acted as a symbol for conservation and has been the WWF’s logo since 1961 so to see it’s decline was devastating.

The first step that was taken towards increasing the panda population was to ban poaching. In the past, poachers had targeted pandas because they are fairly easy to catch. They are slow animals that tend to live in one place and their skins had been sold at huge profit due to their rarity. With these new laws in place, panda hides are no longer a commodity and are much less likely to be deemed “fashionable”. With demand shrinking, poaching finally started to decreased.

The second initiative was focused on rebuilding habitats. There are now 67 reserves across China that protect approximately 5,400 square miles of land that pandas can thrive in. By re-introducing a reliable source of food, safe habitats and a safe route to meeting other pandas, the number of pandas living in the wild is starting to rise.

Together, these initiatives have boosted the panda population. It just goes to show that when nations and organisations come together, they really can do amazing work.

About the Author: Charlie Bedwell is an English Masters student who is using her passion for writing to spread the green word.

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