Giant pandas have been living on earth for about three million years. In recent years, they appear in many attractive ways such as in movies, accessories, Olympics and even money.
In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) removed giant pandas from the list of “endangered” species and updated the status to “vulnerable”. The latest estimates of the total number for giant pandas are 2,060. It’s largely increased from the early years of 21 century, when giant pandas are endangered and the number is only a bit more than 1000. It’s strongly proved that the population decline has been arrested.
Why were giant pandas endangered?
Giant pandas were endangered for years, and there are many reasons for that.
First of all, in ancient times, giant pandas have been heavily killed by humans for meat, also for their skin and beautiful fur.
Another reason is that giant pandas are sole walkers and do not live together. One panda needs between 2.5 to 4 square miles (10 million m2) of land to survive. A couple in mating season need about 10 square miles of land. As humans develop the civilization, they have cleared much of the forest to farmland and living area. The deforestation not only reduces the land of living for giant pandas, but also reduces the amount of bamboo. Since bamboo is the main food for giant pandas, this has hugely affected their living status. This human activity has led to permanent habitat loss in some areas. For example, wild pandas once roamed in China, Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. But today, they are found only in limited areas of China.
In the meantime, giant pandas have very low fertility. The female panda is only fertile for two or three days in a year, and they are very choosy for a mate. What’s more, one female panda only gives birth to one or two at most a time every two years. This means only three to four cubs by a female panda for a lifetime.
After birth, cubs have a really low survival rate, especially in the wild. They are vulnerable and blind when born, and cannot stand at all. Not to mention, they may be accidentally crushed by the mother panda.
Giant pandas are not endangered anymore, thanks to efforts by conservationists
Giant pandas now typically live in Sichuan province, while some inhabiting the neighboring provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. They are considered a “national treasure” by the people of China.
China has designated over 40 panda reserves across central and southwestern China. These natural panda reserves are meant not only to protect the animals, but also to protect their habitat and food source. Researchers can also better observe and study them to assist with conservation efforts.
In the year of 2008, a big earthquake happened in Sichuan, the habitat and bamboo plants heavily destroyed. After the earthquake, more efforts have been taken to establish panda protection bases, to keep vulnerable giant pandas, and to help breed and raise cubs in captivity. Compared to a very low survival rate of cubs in the wild, cubs in captivity are taken good care of by the panda keepers, and a 90% survival rate with newborn cubs is kept.
All these efforts have been helpful to giant panda rescue and protection. The number of giant pandas has been increased in recent years. IUCN took giant pandas off the Red List of endangered animals.
Giant pandas are still at risk, calling for continuous protection
Although it’s encouraging giant pandas are no longer endangered since 2016, their status exalted, and there are not so many natural predators for such big panda bears, giant pandas are still at risk with a “vulnerable” situation. The truth is human activities and earthquakes have imposed severe threats to pandas, as a result only over 1,800 pandas are left in the wild.
The average life span for giant pandas is 15-20 years in the wild, and up to 30 in captivity. The oldest giant panda “Jiajia” died in the year of 38 in 2016. The fertility rate for giant pandas remains quite low, especially for those in the wild.
Giant pandas are still scattered and vulnerable. Their habitats are fragmented and even lost by the influence of human activities and natural disasters. Those bamboo species giant panda love also face challenges in the meantime. Giant pandas’ diet could be severely threatened. Continuous efforts need to pay for panda protection and breeding.
Also remember there are mainly two recognized subspecies of giant pandas living now: the more common “Sichuan” populations and the rarer “Qinling” ones. Fewer than 350 Qinling pandas remain extant today in remote habitat fragments, mostly in Shaanxi. Great and ongoing efforts have been put to research in the breeding and restore species of giant pandas as many as possible. But still “Qinling” subspecies only account for less than 20% of the total number of giant pandas. Panda protection bases in Sichuan and Shaanxi have been cultivating the two species and keep the families develop. All the newborn pandas in China and any other countries are reported back to panda hometown. The genes of these cubs are recorded for this great course for species diversity. But the cold truth is the genetic diversity of captive-bred is still low.
What’s the status of the red panda, a buddy for the giant panda?
As the red panda and the giant pandas have similar habitat and diet, so many people think of them as relatives of one family. And even in Chinese, the name for giant panda is “big bear cat” and for red panda “small bear cat”. However, scientifically, the giant panda is in the bear family while the red panda belongs to the raccoon family. Although there are scientists saying giant panda should be in its own family group due to its uniqueness. The red panda and giant panda are totally different species anyway.
While the giant panda is taken off the endangered list, the red panda is officially classified by IUCN as endangered species. There are only less than 10,000 red pandas estimated in total. And due to habitat fragmentation and loss, illegal hunting and declining number of subspecies, the total number of red pandas is still reducing.
Compared with giant pandas, red pandas have more cubs at birth, with up to four. That’s why more young red pandas are found in the wild than old ones. This is an encouraging situation. However, considering the severe status of endangered red pandas, environments and people over the world need to keep taking measures to protect red pandas and save them from probable extinction, just as what we do to protect giant pandas. This is a long path but a rewarding course for precious animals and the big nature.