Course:CONS200/2019/The story of the recovery of the Giant Panda
Giant pandas are the only mammals of the genus Carnivora, the beer family, the giant panda subfamily and the Ailuropoda. The giant panda has a head length of 1.2-1.8 meters and a tail length of 10-12 cm. It weighs 80-120 kilograms and weighs up to 180 kilograms. The body color is black and white. It has round cheeks, big dark circles, chubby body, the iconic inner character walking, and scalpel-sharp claws. It is one of the loveliest animals in the world.
The giant panda has lived on the earth for at least 8 million years. It is known as the “living fossil” and “China National Treasure.” It is the image ambassador of the World-Wide Fund for Nature and the flagship species of biodiversity conservation in the world. According to the third national survey of wild pandas in the country, there are less than 1,600 wild pandas in the world, belonging to China’s national first-class protected animals. The giant panda initially ate meat. After evolution, 99% of the food was bamboo, but the teeth and digestive tract remained the same, still classified as carnivores, and the risk of anger was comparable to other bear species. The wild panda has a life span of 18-20 years old and can be over 30 years old in captivity. As of November 2018, the population of captive giant pandas reached a new high, with 548 in the world. Giant pandas are endemic to China, and the main existing habitats are in the mountains of Sichuan, Shanxi, and Gansu, China.
The history of giant pandas is long. The fossils of the oldest panda, the earliest pandas discovered so far, were unearthed in Lufeng and Yuanmou, Yunnan, China with a geological age of about 8 million years ago in the late Miocene. In the harsh long-term competition for survival and natural selection, many animals of their contemporaries have become extinct, but the giant panda is a strong superior and has become a “living fossil” preserved today. Fossils show that the giant panda ancestors appeared in the early 2000s of the Hongji period. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, it was the peak period of giant pandas. It belongs to the saber-toothed paleontology group. The habitat of giant pandas covered most of eastern and southern China, north to Beijing, south to southern Myanmar and northern Vietnam. Fossils are usually found in temperate or subtropical forests at altitudes of 500-700 meters. Later, the animals of the same period were extinct, but the giant pandas have survived to this day and maintain their original features.
The flagship species refer to species that attract public attention. The selection of the flagship species is not entirely based on the importance of ecology, but rather on its public appeal and appeal. The panda is the most typical flagship species. If the giant panda is extinct, it can give a massive awakening to all the caregivers of the world. Using flagship species to protect other species and local ecosystems may not be as easy and optimistic as we think.
Categories of Actors
Giant panda is known as a special flagship species in China due to its adorable appearance and behaviors. Giant panda has been loved by a great number of people all over the world since China started sending pandas to different regions in the world.
In other words, panda also has a significant cultural and political meaning, which means there is an unavoidable linkage between China and giant panda. Every time when people visit pandas in zoo, they realize pandas come from China and this is called cultural impression. The decreasing number of giant panda will bring an image crisis to China since panda is the representative of China in cultural and political aspects. Thus, extinction of giant panda is a huge strike towards Chinese society.
Giant panda always found in remote regions of central China, which are mountainous areas. The central and mountainous part of China is a habitat for many wild animals and plants due to its climate and terrain. Giant panda as a part of biosphere, its existence close with other species which also live on the same habitat tightly. This is simply because people stopped extracting panda’s habitat since the early 1960s for protecting giant pandas.
As a result of it, farm land decreased and more forests and mountains were protected. Not only giant panda, other animals also got their habitat back. In addition, the extinction of giant panda will lead to the loss of gene pool for nature. Every species has different and unique genotype, which means extinction will reduce nature gene pool’s size. Thus, recovery of giant pandas has a huge positive impact towards nature.
There isn’t a close link between giant panda and humans. However, since giant panda can bring psychological comfort to mankind, the extinction of giant panda may influence some people's emotions. Their extinction may not be of much concern to human, yet research has shown that many other endangered species could be negatively influenced due to the extinction of giant pandas. The major habitat for endangered species in China is Sichuan, where giant pandas reside. If giant pandas become extinct, a major disturbance will happen within the habitat, which will result in habitat degradation, loss in biodiversity, forest degradation or worse, ultimately affecting the global climate. In short, people may not see a instant effect of the extinction of giant pandas, but it will devastate the world in the long run.
The evidence for the problem
Bamboo blossom is a natural phenomenon that happens every 10 to 100 years. This rare occurrence essentially causes the death of bamboos, often on a large scale. The drastic change is not easy to overcome since bamboo is a staple diet for the Giant Panda. It takes about 20 years of regrowth in order for the bamboo to able to sustain the nutritional need of the entire Giant Panda population.
Consequently, the bamboo subtle regeneration process forces the panda to search for non-blossoming bamboo as an alternative food source within the years following the environmental crisis. Bamboo blossom had transpired between the 1970s and 1980s throughout the geographic ranges of Giant Panda located in Minshan and Qionglai Mountains which subsequently led to 279 panda deaths.
Throughout the past thousands of years, the unceasing effort of the Giant Panda may have given them the capability to undergo bamboo blossoming. However, habitat degradation and other anthropogenic threats have been becoming more detrimental to the panda’s ability to cope with this phenomenon.
Poaching and Habitat destruction/degradation
The Giant Panda’s habitat has been disrupted by human activities for many years, causing anthropogenic change for the species. It is abundantly clear that before the introduction of conservational strategies, the increase in human population also increased the human-panda conflict. Poaching was a serious threat to the species conservation. Most instances of poaching illustrate that the incentive for such a cruel act is simply the greed for financial gain. Panda’s pelt has a substantial economic value; it can be valued as clothing and purchased in the black market for sixty-five thousand dollars.
In 1974, 145 pandas were recorded to be killed at Wolong, but the number dropped to 72 in 1986. Unfortunately, poaching of the Giant Pandas can be accidental. In some occasions, the snare installed by poachers to catch musk deer can kill pandas if they wander into its trap. The musk deer’s scent gland is an upscale material used to produce luxurious perfumes and medications.
In addition, the mountainous regions are overflowing with herbs and bamboo, which are very appealing for people who earn a little over thirty dollars every month. This in term motivated unrestricted harvesting of herbs for conventional Chinese medication and gathering of bamboo for manufactured goods. Another anthropogenic threat includes deforestation. Human population growth and urban advancement encourage removal of forests.
Correspondingly, the diminishing forests greatly reduce suitable panda habitats. Habitat loss is the worse threat that the species has been experiencing. Construction of railways, roads, and dam result in the increase of panda separation and created little panda communities and complicated succession in breeding.
Furthermore, fragmented land gave rise to a migration struggle for the species, and decrease genetic variation. The geographic range of pandas decreased from 19300 square miles to 3860 square miles. The estimated 1800 surviving Giant Pandas are distributed throughout the six mountains ranges in Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Gansu Provinces located in China. The enormous human intervention puts grave stress on the panda’s survival rate and compressed the species into protected areas.
Options for remedial action(s)
Through legislation to protect giant pandas, a lot of work has been done on legislation, and various laws and regulations have been developed to protect wild animals such as giant pandas. Article 9 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states: “The State protects precious animals and plants.” The Wildlife Protection Act lists giant pandas as a class of protected animals and provides detailed regulations on the protection of wildlife. The “Forest Law” and the “Environmental Protection Law” also clearly stipulate that to effectively crack down on and punish criminals for killing and smuggling giant pandas, the NPC Standing Committee’s Criminal Law Supplement passed in 1987 further emphasized that smuggling and killing giant pandas is severely punished. “The sentence will be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, and fines and confiscation of property may be imposed. If the circumstances are serious, life imprisonment and death penalty may be imposed, and all property shall be confiscated.” Protecting rare animals such as giant pandas provides a legal basis for the protection of giant pandas.
The establishment of the giant panda “nature reserve” for protection. Since 1963, the Chinese government has established 14 giant pandas “nature reserve” in the significant mountain ranges of Qinling, Lushan, Daxiangling, and Xiaoxiangling. With an area of 6,000 square kilometers, it effectively protects panda-intensive areas and habitats. In the protected area, adhere to perennial patrol inspections, grab life-saving diseases and starving giant pandas, and stop and punish crimes that endanger giant pandas. At the same time, it will control the mountains and water, restore vegetation, prevent and control various natural disasters, reduce the interference of human activities on the wild pandas, and provide an excellent ecological environment for the survival and reproduction of giant pandas.
Filming public service advertisements and documentaries to protect giant pandas, holding exhibitions related to giant pandas, etc. In this way, the importance of protecting giant pandas is conveyed. For example, in order to create a safe and peaceful home for the giant pandas, the Ankang City Government uses radio, television, newspapers and other media to promote the importance of protecting giant pandas. They also use propaganda vehicles to promote the annual “Love Bird Week” and “Wild Animals Promotion,” In the “Month” campaign, publicity and education on wildlife protection laws and regulations were widely carried out; photo exhibitions on “protecting giant pandas and protecting wild animals” were held; print wild animal campaign slogans, posting wild animal notices, and making “on strengthening giant pandas” The Notice of the Management of Nature Reserves have a permanent publicity of 150 iron plates. In the eye-catching position of the nature reserve, a giant billboard of 50 square meters is erected. Through publicity, the enthusiasm of the majority of cadres and the masses who love the giant pandas and love nature is unprecedentedly high.
According to the report from IUCN, the population of giant panda rose 17% from 2004 to 2014, which marked the change of giant panda’s category from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable”. However, this positive outcome does not mean human should stop caring about giant pandas. From the post of WWF, there is still only 1864 giant pandas out in the wild as of 2014. While the number increased from just over 1000 in 1970s, this small amount of wild giant pandas could be erased by just a single misstep of human. This means that wild giant pandas are still very vulnerable to extinction.
Recommendations addressed to each of the main categories of actors
Because of their well-known cute appearances, tourists all over the world visit China to see giant panda every year. The government could provide the crowd with information, such as smuggling giant pandas, illegal hunt around their habitat. Also, more fund will be needed to create more engaging content for people to be more aware of the issue. Chinese government must keep raising awareness globally, to protect the newly-established environment for giant pandas, and ensure its stability in the future. For example, bringing giant pandas to zoos located in other countries will definitely make people more aware of the issue of giant pandas.
Even though the decrease in farm land lead to more protected habitats for giant pandas, there are still factors which will increase the use of land nonetheless. One of them being population growth.Many scientists are arguing about whether the current use of land is enough to sustain the world population as it grows.  Which means that giant pandas' habitat could face problems since Sichuan is also important agriculturally. It is up to people trying their best to preserve nature and environment so that giant panda will not lose their natural habitats.
If giant pandas have a psychological effect on human beings, then human will also have the incentives to protect them. Right now, many organizations are rallying to raise awareness of protecting giant pandas and preserving their habitats.  If the organizations get recognized enough, then people can shoulder the burden to building reserves and monitoring giant pandas, which will be a better future for them.
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