‘Leop­ards, wolves van­ish­ing from panda con­ser­va­tion ar­eas’

The Korea Times - - ENVIRONMEN­T -

PARIS (AFP) — It may be one of the most rec­og­niz­able sym­bols of con­ser­va­tion, but ef­forts to pro­tect the gi­ant panda have failed to safe­guard large mam­mals shar­ing its habi­tats, ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished Mon­day show­ing dra­matic de­clines of leop­ards and other preda­tors.

The gi­ant panda has won the hearts of an­i­mal lovers around the world and im­ages of the bam­boo-eat­ing crea­ture with its ink-blot eye patches have come to rep­re­sent global ef­forts to pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity.

Since con­ser­va­tion ef­forts be­gan, China has cracked down on poach­ers, out­lawed the trade in panda hides and mapped out dozens of pro­tected habi­tats.

The strat­egy is con­sid­ered one of the most am­bi­tious and high-pro­file pro­grams to save a species from ex­tinc­tion — and it worked.

The panda was re­moved from the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture en­dan­gered species list in 2016 al­though it re­mains “vul­ner­a­ble.” But a new study pub­lished on Mon­day in the jour­nal Na­ture Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion has cast doubt over the idea that ef­forts to pro­tect the panda au­to­mat­i­cally help all other an­i­mals in its ter­ri­tory.

Re­searchers found that the leop­ard, snow leop­ard, wolf and dhole — also known as the Asian wild dog — have almost dis­ap­peared from the ma­jor­ity of gi­ant panda pro­tected habi­tats since the 1960s.

The find­ings “in­di­cate the in­suf­fi­ciency of gi­ant panda con­ser­va­tion for pro­tect­ing these large car­ni­vore species,” said Sheng Li, of the School of Life Sciences at Pek­ing Univer­sity, who led the re­search.

The authors com­pared sur­vey data from the 1950s to 1970s with in­for­ma­tion from almost 8,000 cam­era traps taken be­tween 2008 and 2018.

They found that leop­ards had dis­ap­peared from 81 per­cent of gi­ant panda re­serves, snow leop­ards from 38 per­cent, wolves from 77 per­cent and dholes from 95 per­cent. The preda­tors face threats from poach­ers, log­ging and dis­ease, the study found.

The authors said a key chal­lenge was that while pan­das may have a home range of up to 13 square kilo­me­ters (5 square miles), the four large car­ni­vores can roam across an area ex­ceed­ing 100 square kilo­me­ters.

Sheng Li told AFP that in­di­vid­ual panda re­serves — typ­i­cally around 300-400 sq km — are too small to sup­port a “vi­able pop­u­la­tion of large car­ni­vores like leop­ards or dholes.”

Panda con­ser­va­tion has helped pro­tect other an­i­mals, he said, in­clud­ing small car­ni­vores, pheas­ants and song­birds.

“Fail­ing to safe­guard large car­ni­vore species does not erase the power of gi­ant panda as an ef­fec­tive um­brella that has well shel­tered many other species,” he added.

But he called for fu­ture con­ser­va­tion to see be­yond a single species, or an­i­mals with “enor­mous charisma,” to fo­cus on broader restora­tion of nat­u­ral habi­tats. He said he hoped this can be achieved as part of a pro­posed new Gi­ant Panda Na­tional Park, a long-term pro­gram that would link up ex­ist­ing habi­tats over thou­sands of kilo­me­ters to al­low iso­lated pop­u­la­tions to min­gle and po­ten­tially breed.


The gi­ant panda is seen as an ‘um­brella’ species be­cause its con­ser­va­tion is con­sid­ered to help many less well-known an­i­mals, plants and birds.

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