Study Highlights Increasing Threats to Giant Pandas' Survival, WWF SaysWashington DC -- A new study documenting the degradation and loss of panda habitat in China's Wolong reserve underscores the urgent need to end deforestation, control the impact of tourism and adopt more stringent measures to protect the giant panda, World Wildlife Fund said Thursday.
Appearing in this week's issue of Science, the study by several Chinese and American panda researchers indicates that the rate of habitat loss in Wolong has increased since it was declared a protected area in 1975. Driving this loss, the researchers found, was a sharp increase in the number of people living within the reserve and the consequent pressures this growing human presence has placed upon the environment.
"It is extremely disturbing, although not surprising, to find that habitat loss continues in spite of efforts by both the Chinese government and international conservation organizations to protect the giant panda," said Ginette Hemley, World Wildlife Fund's vice president for species conservation.
"It does not mean that these efforts have failed, because without them the situation would be far worse. But it does mean that we must redouble our efforts to protect the panda in the wild," Hemley said.
Fortunately, the overall picture for panda conservation in China is brighter than the situation that the study depicts in Wolong, which is situated close to the provincial capital of Chengdu, a major population center, and which has become a major magnet for tourism.
"Most of China's 30-odd panda reserves lie in less accessible, more remote areas and are subject to significantly less pressure in this respect than Wolong," noted Karen Baragona, panda program manager for WWF.
Although the Science article highlights some of the difficult challenges encountered in Wolong, it would be "wrong to conclude from this that conservation efforts there have failed. On the contrary, had the nature reserve not been established, there is little doubt that most or all of the panda's habitat in Wolong would have been wiped out by now," Baragona added.
The main threat to the giant panda's habitat is not, and has never been, the incremental deforestation caused by local agricultural activities, but rather large-scale commercial logging. While the Science study legitimately points to the former as a continuing problem, it fails to acknowledge that creation of the reserve put Wolong off limits to a commercial logging operation that almost certainly would have resulted in the wholesale clear-cutting of the area over the last 25 years.
"While we clearly face continual challenges--one of which is the need to do more to curtail destructive human activities--there is no doubt that great progress has been made in panda conservation, particularly in the last few years as the number of panda reserves has doubled and as a ban on commercial logging has expanded to include all of the panda's remaining range," Baragona said.
"The latest findings constitute both a timely warning and a tool that should help guide conservationists in dealing with continuing threats to the panda's survival in the wild. But WWF believes the best way to do this is by helping China improve protected area management and by working with local communities to help them to become better guardians of their environments," Hemley added.
For more information, please contact
Chris Chaplin, Communications Officer, WWF-China
+86 10 6511 6237, firstname.lastname@example.org