In efforts to protect giant pandas, China neglected other species: Study

WION Web Team Beijing, China Aug 04, 2020, 02.07 PM(IST)

Giant pandas Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The panda's status was changed from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' in 2016, in a sign that decades of Chinese conservation efforts had paid off.

A latest study has revealed that in a bid to save its beloved pandas, China has ignored other species such as leopards and other carnivores species in the past three decades.

The panda's status was changed from "endangered" to "vulnerable" in 2016, in a sign that decades of Chinese conservation efforts had paid off.

However, several carnivorous populations have seen their numbers drop sharply during the same period, potentially placing the larger ecosystem at risk, according to a new study released monday by a joint china-united states team.

Also read: First-ever giant panda cub born in South Korean zoo

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, examined 73 protected areas in China, including 66 giant panda nature reserves.

Pandas are known in China as an umbrella species, which means experts believe measures to protect pandas would help protect other species, as well as the larger ecosystem. This may be true for some species, such as small carnivores but this approach has failed large carnivores, which have different habitat needs and behaviors, and are now under threat.

Using historical data and camera-trap surveys, researchers found four species, leopards, snow leopards, wolves and dholes, have vanished from many of these reserves since they were set up about 50 to 60 years ago.

Also read: Canada zoo is sending two pandas back to China because it can't get enough bamboo to feed them

Snow leopards have disappeared from 38 per cent of the reserves. That figure rises to 77 per cent for wolves, 81 per cent for leopards, and a staggering 95 per cent for dholes, a type of wild dog.

"These findings warn against the heavy reliance on a single-species conservation policy for biodiversity conservation in the region," said the researchers, urging immediate action to protect these fragile ecosystems.

The 73 protected areas were spread out across five mountain ranges with panda population distribution, largely running through central China.

The researchers used camera traps at 7,830 locations across these areas in the hopes of recording sightings of the animals.

Despite this massive effort, the researchers only registered four dhole sightings, 11 wolf sightings, 45 leopard sightings and 309 snow leopard sightings. The snow leopards might have survived a little better due to their high-altitude alpine homes, where fewer humans live, the study said.

These low numbers are highly alarming, said the researchers, and suggest "that they no longer fulfill their ecological roles as apex predators in those ranges."

Saving the giant panda

Since the 1970s, the giant panda, native to china and beloved worldwide has been the focus of an intensive, high-profile campaign, as desperate scientists raced to save the species from extinction.

They are famously hard to breed but chinese conservation efforts finally paid off, with wild panda populations on the rise.

A key part of these efforts are the establishment of sprawling panda reserves. Pandas have long suffered from habitat loss, so china built giant reserves across several mountain ranges where bamboo is plentiful to keep the animals safe and in one place.

In 2017, China announced plans for a 27,134-square kilometer reserve, three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.