Giant panda population on rise thanks to effective protection

Panda cubs born in the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in 2015.

Giant panda populations have been on the rise in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, as the region has taken effective measures to protect the rare species.

According to Sichuan’s fourth giant panda survey in 2015, the province was home to 1,387 wild giant pandas, accounting for almost 74.4 percent of the country’s total. That number was a 15 percent increase compared with 15 years before.

The province had over 2 million hectares of natural habitat for giant pandas in 2015, 78.7 percent of the country’s total, the surveyed indicated. Giant pandas are mainly distributed across 37 counties in Sichuan, the provincial forestry department said. About 61.5 percent of wild giant pandas and 49.5 percent of their natural habitat are under effective protection, thanks to the creation of 46 natural reserves.

Shi Xiaogang, head of the Mujiangping protection area in Wolong National Nature Reserve, estimates the number of wild giant pandas living within the protection station to be around 70. Shi, 45, has been doing wild animal protection work for 25 years. The Mujiangping protection station, where he has worked for the past three years, covers a total area of 73,600 hectares. It has 18 employees responsible for the protection of its panda residents.

Shi said he and his coworkers station themselves in the wild every month except February, carrying out research on the distribution areas, growth and decline, habitat changes and conditions of giant panda corridors.

Great progress has been made in protection over over the past 25 years, Shi said. Now, GPS, infrared cameras, a giant panda DNA database and other advanced methods can provide more accurate information about the lives and status of giant pandas, he added.

By the end of 2016, Sichuan had trained 13 captive-bred pandas to survive in the wild, and released seven of them. In October of last year, Hua Yan and Zhang Meng, two female captive-bred giant pandas, were released into the wild, the first case of two such pandas being released at the same time.

Sichuan has taken effective measures to address the breeding and survival rates of giant panda cubs. Now the province is home to 407 captive-bred giant pandas, ranking first in the country. The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda has 231 pandas in residence, while 176 live at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

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