At only about 1,000 in the wild, Chinas giant panda is among the most endangered species in the world. But there is still hope if we act fast. The pandas greatest threat is habitat loss and new research identifies high-quality habitat that, if protected, could increase the species chances of long-term survival.
"The current network of nature reserves provides protection for less than half of the pandas remaining habitat and fails to conserve essential habitat for dispersal," say Colby Loucks and Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund-US in Washington DC, and four co-authors in the April issue of Conservation Biology. The giant pandas range has shrunk from the lowland forests of southeast China, northern Vietnam and northern Myanmar to six mountain ranges along Chinas Tibetan Plateau, where only 24 isolated populations survive today. Now, however, there is a window of opportunity to protect more of the pandas habitat, thanks to two conservation policies recently adopted by the Chinese government to help control flooding. First, under the National Forest Conservation Program, logging is banned in natural forests until 2010; and second, the Grain-to-Green policy is restoring forests on steep agricultural lands. These policies "have the potential to protect and restore panda habitat across the pandas entire range," say Loucks, Dinerstein and their colleagues.
Giant pandas need both high- and low-elevation forests as well as dispersal corridors. They need both types of forest because each supplies their primary food during part of the year: during the summer, pandas eat a kind of bamboo that grows at high elevations; and during the rest of the year, they eat another kind that grows at low elevations.
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