Wild panda sight­ings spark hope of re­cov­ery

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By HUANG ZHILING in Chengdu huangzhiling@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Wild pan­das have been spot­ted three times at the foot of Ji­a­jin Moun­tain in Sichuan prov­ince since July last year, which con­ser­va­tion­ists at­tribute to im­prove­ments in the eco­log­i­cal health of the area.

Pa­trolling the moun­tain at around 8:40amon Satur­day, Chen Min, an em­ployee of the Ji­a­jin Moun­tain Forestry Bureau in Ya’an, Sichuan, saw two adult wild pan­das walk­ing leisurely along Na­tional High­way 351.

“One dis­ap­peared into the for­est soon af­ter it saw me. The other kept walk­ing slowly and was not in­tim­i­dated even when my au­to­mo­bile was nearby,” he said.

Be­cause there is a river near the high­way, Chen spec­u­lated that the pan­das might have had a drink be­fore they crossed the high­way and dis­ap­peared into the woods.

“Wild pan­das have been found by both pa­trollers and lo­cal farm­ers since July last year,” Chen said. “One farmer even re­ported a wild panda eat­ing honey in his house near the high­way.”

Sichuan be­gan im­pos­ing bans on the felling of vir­gin forests in 1998 to pro­tect the ecol­ogy of the up­per reaches of the Yangtze River.

“The ef­forts have paid off on Ji­a­jin Moun­tain, where there are more lush trees, less land­slides and more wild pan­das,” said Zhang Hemin, chief of the China Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­ter for the Gi­ant Panda in Wenchuan county, Sichuan. His cen­ter has a panda base in Ya’an.

The lat­est cen­sus tal­lied 1,864 wild pan­das and 375 cap­tive pan­das world­wide at the end of 2013. That com­pares with the ear­lier count of 1,596 wild pan­das and 164 cap­tive pan­das.

De­spite the rise in the num­ber of wild pan­das, the an­i­mals re­main an en­dan­gered species.

Pan­das sur­vive solely along the eastern edge of the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau in six moun­tain ranges, five of which are in Sichuan. But their habi­tat, which to­tals about 23,050 square kilo­me­ters, is vul­ner­a­ble. With most val­leys in their ranges in­hab­ited by hu­mans, many panda pop­u­la­tions are iso­lated in nar­row belts of bam­boo no more than 1,000 to 2,000 me­ters in width.

“There­fore, their ac­tual ge­o­graph­i­cal range is much smaller than gen­er­ally de­picted on maps,” said Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing.

Twenty-four of the 33 groups of wild pan­das found in the most re­cent cen­sus are be­lieved to be en­dan­gered, with some groups hav­ing fewer than 30 pan­das, ZhangHemin said.

Eigh­teen groups have fewer than 10 pan­das each and are in se­vere dan­ger of dy­ing off, he added.

1,864 wild pan­das were tal­lied world­wide in 2013.

AKE JIUSHE / FOR CHINA DAILY

A wild fe­male gi­ant panda is re­strained by farm­ers wor­ried that she would be hurt by hunt­ing dogs af­ter she burst into a vil­lage in Liang­shan Yi au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture, Sichuan prov­ince, in early April. The panda had been re­leased from cap­tiv­ity.

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