Panda habitats outside existing reserves are essential to panda's long term survivalWashington DC, USA - Giant pandas are well protected in China's 33 panda reserves but the key to their long term survival lies in the land outside of the existing reserve system, according to an article published in this week's issue of Science. The Science article also notes that two new land protection policies provide an historic opportunity to implement panda conservation efforts.
The article, which appears in today's issue of the journal, states that the giant panda could face extinction through inbreeding and other problems if confined solely to existing nature reserves. The article goes on to support China's National Forest Conservation Program (NFCP) and its Grain-to-Green policy as ways in which to move panda conservation in China from individual reserves to habitat conservation across wider landscapes - a conservation method which will ultimately be necessary to ensure the long term survival of this critically endangered species.
The Science article, co-authored by WWF scientists Colby Loucks, Eric Dinerstein, and David Olson, as well as panda expert Lu Zhi and others, notes that China's estimated 1,100 wild giant pandas survive in only a fraction of their historical range. Human land use has restricted the species to approximately 24 fragmented populations, many fewer than 50 individuals, in the mountainous forest terrain at the edge of the Tibetan plateau.
A recent landscape-scale analysis of pandas in China's Qinling Mountains, for example, found that increased protection and linkage of panda habitat, much of which lies outside of existing reserves, is vital in meeting the habitat requirements of its panda population.
Although panda conservation activities in China are receiving unprecedented support, population expansion and rapid development could negatively affect China's panda populations. China has recently increased its commitment to environmental protection, and two programs - the NFCP and the Grain-to-Green program could provide both immediate and long term benefits, if panda conservation programs can be successfully integrated into them.
Colby Loucks, a conservation scientist with WWF, who conducted the analysis, notes "this next decade will be a critical decade for panda conservation. China's panda reserves are doing a good job of protecting pandas and their habitat, but their number and size need to increase, for panda populations to rebound. If panda conservation can be integrated into China's restoration and development policies, then there will be space for both humans and pandas."
China began implementing the NFCP, which aims to increase forest cover in the upper Yangtze, Yellow and Songhuajiang river basins, in 1998 in the wake of extensive flooding in the region. The NFCP bans logging in natural forests and in doing so, provides protection to the remaining forests until 2010.
Complementing the NFCP is China's Grain-to-Green policy, which aims to restore hillside agricultural lands into forest or grasslands over the next 5 to 8 years. In Sichuan, where a majority of pandas live, this covers 1.9 million acres.
Additionally, a third national panda survey, carried out by WWF and China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) should provide scientists and policy makers with more information on the panda's distribution, habitat and potential dispersal patterns - data which will be crucial to protecting this highly endangered symbol of conservation. The panda survey will be the first in over a decade and is slated for publication in 2002.
WWF, the conservation organization, leads international efforts to protect the diversity of life on earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF works in more than 100 countries around the globe.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific organization in the world, explores the latest advances in science and their impact on human well-being through a variety of forums. AAAS publishes Science, an editorially independent, multidisciplinary, weekly peer-reviewed journal that ranks as the world's most prestigious scientific journal. The AAAS is a non-profit membership organization, founded in 1848.
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Kerry Zobor, WWF-US, tel. +1 202-778-9509, email: firstname.lastname@example.org