China's Pandas Face an Uncertain Future After Quake

Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing
for National Geographic News
January 29, 2009

China has started mapping out a reconstruction plan for parts of Sichuan Province that were devastated by a major earthquake in May 2008.

And while the immediate plans—signed-off on late last year—aim to rebuild communities and captive panda facilities, they do not, to the chagrin of some conservationists, include sufficient measures to restore or protect the surrounding bamboo forests that provide refuge for endangered wild pandas.

According to some experts, hasty post-quake rebuilding in southwestern China could ultimately accelerate the fragmentation of the fragile panda's largest remaining natural habitat.

"The earthquake and the human response to the earthquake are actually posing new threats to the long-term viability of the wild pandas," said Marc Brody, founder of the conservation group Panda Mountain—U.S.-China Environmental Fund. Brody has been working in the region for nearly a decade and is helping the Chinese government with blueprints for reconstruction.

Quakes

Hit in succession by seismic shocks and rock slides, China's largest swath of protected wild panda habitat—the 2.3 million-acre (924,500-hectare) Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries—incurred significant damage, according to Giovanni Boccardi, who heads the Asia-Pacific section of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre in Paris. (The sanctuaries are a World Heritage site.)

The Sanctuaries, a collection of seven reserves and nine parks, host at least 25 percent of the Earth's remaining 2,000 captive and wild pandas.

The earthquake, Boccardi explained, set off avalanches that buried some of the bamboo forests that sheltered the wild pandas of Sichuan.

The other 75 percent of the Earth's pandas populate areas of Sichuan outside the Sanctuaries, as well as parts of Shanxi and Gansu provinces, which also suffered during the massive quake.

Pandas and People

China's pandas and its people are inextricably linked.

An influx of up to five million quake refugees searching for new homes will also impact the pandas.

Continued on Next Page >>


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