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The Giant Panda: The World’s Favourite Bear

As the national animal of China, the panda is a beloved animal worldwide. The giant panda is endangered and is a protected animal globally – there are only around 2,000 in the world. Pandas originate in China, and other countries can only obtain pandas through cooperation with the Chinese Government. This can be done by establishing a research partnership with the Giant Panda Research Base.

People love giant pandas for a reason. They are cute, furry, and funny but, despite their appearance, should be treated with caution – they are a bear after all!  If you want to see pandas in real life, the Sichuan Province, considered the hometown of pandas, is the best choice.

A Detailed Introduction to the Giant Panda

Many people like pandas, but they usually only have a general impression of pandas. So we will specifically introduce the giant pandas.

The giant panda, academically named Ailuropoda melanoleuca, is mainly distributed in the western and northern mountains of Sichuan Province, Gansu’s southern tip, and the Qinling region Shaanxi. The giant panda is China’s national animal and has a certain reputation worldwide. The adult giant panda has a body length of 1.5-1.8 meters and a weight of about 75-160 kg. It has a relatively docile temperament and rarely initiates attacks. The self-defence ability is not strong, vision and hearing are quite dull, and the sense of smell is good. Due to late maturity, weak cubs, and long breeding cycles, giant pandas’ survival has always been worrying.

A hundred thousand years ago, giant pandas were very common. But after many years of evolution, pandas maintained their original characteristics in form and failed to adapt to their environment, so their numbers have dramatically reduced. Especially in the past 200 years, environmental changes brought about by human activities have exacerbated the decline in the number of giant pandas.

However, continuous protection of giant pandas in recent years has changed this situation. According to a survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2015, the current number of wild pandas is around 1,800, and the number of captive pandas is around 400. According to the rules of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the protection status of giant pandas has been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable. It shows that the protection of Giant Panda has been successful in the past decade.

giant panda eating bamboo
Giant Panda’s nutritional preference is bamboo. (Image Credit: mana5280)

Protection of Giant Pandas

Due to various reasons, the number of giant pandas declined sharply at the beginning of the last century. Because of this, in the 1960s, the Chinese government began to protect giant pandas. However, the initial protection work did not achieve good results, and the number of giant pandas is still declining. Especially in 1976, Sichuan Fargesia (the main food of wild pandas) bloomed out of season, causing the Fargesia to die on a large scale. Wild pandas have lost their food sources, and their numbers have declined sharply. According to the survey in 1988, there are only about 1,100 giant pandas in the world, which are endangered species.

After entering the 1990s, China entered a stage of rapid development. With the improvement of national strength, the Chinese government’s protection of giant pandas has gradually entered the right track. With the establishment of 13 giant panda nature reserves and several giant panda research institutes, the number of giant pandas has slowly increased. According to the fourth survey of the number of giant pandas conducted by the Ministry of Forestry of China, the number of giant pandas in 2014 was about 1,900. According to the latest report of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2019, the current number of giant pandas has exceeded two thousand. Based on rules, the protection status of giant pandas has been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable. It is a significant moment in the history of human protection of animals.

However, the protection of giant pandas still faces great difficulties. The establishment of the giant panda sanctuary certainly protects the living environment of giant pandas and limits the scope of their activities. This makes it difficult to communicate between the various populations of giant pandas, increasing the possibility of inbreeding. Especially for a few populations with a total of less than 20 giant pandas, the recovery and development of these populations face greater challenges.

Besides, there is also the issue of captive pandas. The original intention of the Giant Panda Research Institute was to use technology to help giant pandas reproduce. At present, many methods have achieved relatively good results, but this has brought about a problem that the number of captive pandas has grown rapidly. These giant pandas were born in laboratories, research institutes, or zoos since they were young. They were carefully taken care of by the breeders during the growing up process, without wild survivability and experience. The number of captive giant pandas exceeds 400, accounting for one-fifth of the total number of giant pandas. It is foreseeable that because the survival rate of captive panda cubs is much higher than that of wild panda cubs, the number of captive pandas will increase in the future. How to teach these captive pandas to return to natural life is also a problem that people must face.

A gentle giant panda looks at the camera quizzically
Image Credit: wwf.org

Giant Panda Nature Reserve:

As the name suggests, the Giant Panda Nature Reserve is an area used to protect the giant panda’s habitat. Some of the existing giant panda sanctuaries are set up only for giant pandas, and some are integrated animal sanctuaries. There are 13 protected areas with giant panda trails, distributed in Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. The largest three are the following three:

1)      Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve: Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve is located in the central part of Sichuan Province, with ​​200,000 hectares. It is the third-largest nature reserve in China and currently the largest reserve with giant pandas. In addition to giant pandas in reserve, there are also precious protected animals such as golden monkeys and leopards. The number of wild giant pandas here accounts for about 10% of the total number of giant pandas, and it is currently one of the most important habitats for giant pandas.

2)      Wanglang Giant Panda Nature Reserve: Wanglang Giant Panda Nature Reserve is located in the northern part of Sichuan Province, with a total area of ​​322.97 square kilometres. It is a reserve specially set up for giant pandas. It has the largest wild giant panda population currently, and it is also an important node connecting other giant panda habitats. In a sense, this is the most important reserve for protecting wild giant pandas.

3)      Shaanxi Foping National Nature Reserve: Foping Nature Reserve is located in the southern part of Shaanxi Province, with 28,586 hectares. At present, there are about 100 wild pandas in reserve, which makes Shaanxi Province the province with the most pandas except Sichuan.

a pair of giant pandas snuggle against one another
Image Credit: Susan F/wwf.org

Giant Panda Research Institute:

The Giant Panda Research Institute is a research centre established by the Chinese government to protect giant pandas. There are currently four giant panda research institutes. We are going to take a look at three research institutes that are open to tourists.

1) Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding: Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base is currently the largest research base of giant pandas in China. The reason for its establishment is that after the off-season flowering of arrow bamboo in 1976, many hungry giant pandas were sent to Chengdu Zoo for treatment.  To better treat these giant pandas, the Chengdu City Government decided to establish a giant panda research base and later built a new park for the research base.

Currently, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has nearly 200 giant pandas, making it the largest captive centre for giant pandas. And it is currently open to the public. If you want to choose a place to watch pandas, this is the best choice. You can’t see so many pandas gathering together to play and play in other places in the world.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding opens from 7:30 am to 6 pm, and the ticket price is RMB 55 (approximately 6 Pounds).

2) Dujiangyan Breeding training Research Center: The original intention of protecting giant pandas has never been to keep them in captivity and make them pets for humans, but to make them better survive in the wild. Based on this concept, the Chinese government established the Dujiangyan Breeding training Research Center. This centre aims to train captive giant pandas with no wilderness survival experience to adapt to natural life and prepare for the next release. The location of the research institute also has a special meaning. It was established in the place where wild giant pandas were first discovered after the founding of China.

At present, 30-40 giant pandas are trained here every year in the Dujiangyan Breeding training Research Center. Besides giant pandas, some other companion animals are living here.

The opening hours of Dujiangyan Breeding training Research Center are 7:30 am-6:00 pm, and the ticket price is RMB 58 (approximately 6.4 Pounds)

3) Bifengxia Panda Base: The Bifengxia Panda Base is located in Ya’an City, Sichuan Province. It is a new home for captive giant pandas under the increasingly crowded Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center. Currently, there are more than 70 pandas in the park (2014).

The Bifengxia Panda Base is currently open to the public. However, because there is no airport in Ya’an City, it is still necessary to fly to Chengdu to reach the Bifengxia Panda Base, and the number of pandas in the Bifengxia Panda Base is not as good as the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center. So if you want to watch pandas, Bifengxia Panda Base is not a good choice.

But the Bifengxia Panda Base has a special feature. It accepts volunteers (including international volunteers). This is currently the only opportunity for non-professionals to get close to pandas. By applying in advance, you can become a volunteer at the base and engage in panda care activities, including cleaning night nests, smashing bamboo, and peeling bamboo shoots. This volunteer activity usually lasts about a week and is suitable for tourists who have more time and love pandas.

A giant panda chews on a large stick of bamboo
Image Credit: Skip Brown/ Smithsonian’s National Zoo

There are not many successful human protection cases of endangered animals, and the giant panda is one of them. Behind the success of conservation work is countless researchers and volunteers’ hard work for more than 50 years. But even so, the protection level of giant pandas has only been reduced by one level, which is enough to see the difficulty of protecting endangered animals. On the issue of protecting endangered animals, the understanding and support of normal people are really important. The success of the giant panda protection work is inseparable from the Chinese government’s publicity on the protection of giant pandas. Only when everyone realizes the significance of the protection of endangered animals can its protection work be successful.

 

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