Pandas may have been expensive to protect but it may be a conservation success story
Are pandas endangered?
According the the IUCN Red List there appears to be little doubt that there are less than 2,500 mature individuals left in the wild. Pandas were listed as Endangered in 1990 and have been declining ever since. Until recently. The general population decline seems to have been halted by extensive efforts to improve the pandas habitat has seemed to benefit the species greatly.
The initial argument for spending so much money on panda conservation was – What is the point on wasting large sums on captive breeding when there is no wild left to release these animals into?
The giant panda is currently confined to isolated mountain ranges in a small area of south-central China and while is has long been believed that pandas do not help themselves by their sporadic and unsuccessful breeding strategies; studies in the wild have shown that pandas breed just as well as any other bear. This means that when they are in captivity with hundreds on onlookers, they probably just don’t feel like it.
Decreasing habitat will obviously mean a decrease in pandas but with habitat improving and breakthroughs in captive breeding, there may be a significantly better future on the horizon for the giant panda.
What the experts say about panda conservation:
The many benefits of panda conservation reach far beyond the bears themselves
The World Wildlife Fund is one of the largest and most recognisable organisations dedicated to protecting species. We spoke to Nicola Loweth, the WWF UK Regional Officer for China and India”
“The Upper Yangtze basin where giant pandas are found is one of the most important global biodiversity hotspots. Although pandas remain threatened, panda conservation is about much more than just the giant panda itself. The status of the giant panda directly reflects the quality of habitat and the health of the entire ecosystem, so protecting wild pandas will also serve to protect many other species of rare plants and wildlife.”
RZSS Edinburgh Zoo
Giant pandas are too important a species to be allowed to become extinct
Edinburgh Zoo is the only organisation in the United Kingdom that houses giant pandas. Director of Giant Panda Project and Strategic Innovations, Iain Valentine, told us:
“As a result of a partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association – a large, non-profit organisation dedicated to giant panda conservation – the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is bringing skills in animal nutrition, genetics, embryology, immunology and veterinary medicine, which are vital areas of research for giant pandas, to the global effort to save the species. This will ensure a genetically healthy and diverse population exists ex-situ, as well as in the wild. We are also in the position to aid a fellow conservation body financially, with this money being targeted towards the restoration of bamboo habitat in China.”
Pandas have been expensive to protect, but it may be a conservation success story
The IUCN Red List is the world’s largest database of the conservation status of animals. We asked Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List, his opinion on conserving pandas:
“Whether the money spent on tigers, elephants and pandas would be better spent across all biodiversity, is hard to say. In many ways spending huge amounts of money on elephants and pandas can be a huge benefit to conservation because those are iconic species; it helps to really get the conservation message home. Many flagship species have wide-ranging habitats, so by conserving them you are conserving really large ecosystems and all the species that live there.
The panda is more restrictive and it’s tricky to say that the investment has been worthwhile. But pandas appear to be recovering and we’re hoping in the next year or two we can down-list it and say all that effort has paid off. All of the money was going into ex-situ breeding. Achieving that breakthrough has been hugely successful and the lessons learned from that process can be applied to other species. The husbandry side of it is often ignored. Huge investment went into breeding and raising young panda cubs to adulthood. Valuable lessons have been learned that can be transferred to other species, which have similar problems. It’s often hard to measure all the benefits that go into these things.”
Photographs: George Lu, vincentraal
Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje