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Home>>Life >> Others
09:58, August 17, 2009

Wild panda risks extinction within 'two to three generations' (2)

Two panda cubs recuperate from the Sichuan earthquake at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province, on May 27 last year. (CFP Photo)

"Of course I welcome more panda reserves, but if we have at least 10 reserves without isolating any of the panda's habitats, that's quite enough."

Reconstruction of the Wolong National Nature Reserve, devastated by the Sichuan earthquake last May, is one of Fan's main concerns.

He stressed trees cannot be introduced from outside the Wolong Reserve or they will create even more severe destruction to the reserve than the earthquake itself.

China started panda conservation as early as the 1950s, the first country in the world to introduce environmental engineering to save a single species, he said.

"The government has done quite a lot to protect the panda. But to have long-term harmony of humans and the panda? It is still not doing enough," he said.

"Humans should leave some space for the survival of animals."

He called on the central government to invest and manage all panda reserves. The financing of reserves comes from county, province and central governments. Local governments find it hard to resist the lure of 400 million yuan ($58.8 million) in tax income from building hydropower stations, he said.

"There is still much work to be done," he said.

Art of compromise

Fan traces his ties with the WWF back to the early 1980s studying the panda with the WWF and ecologists like Pan Wenshi and George Schaller.

The first international conservation organization invited by the government to China in 1980, the WWF has been working on giant panda conservation in the country ever since.

But Fan's first job was at the State Forestry Administration in 1986. Responsible for conservation and management of wildlife, he led the National Conservation Program for the Giant Panda and Its Habitat in the 1990s.

He left the government three years ago feeling he had "had enough and I was tired of being an official for so long. He admitted part of the reason he left was to "run away from bureaucracy" and "realize more of my ideals."

"I felt I could not do anything," he said, "I wanted to achieve something, but I could not." He wanted to increase his knowledge of animal conservation by working at an NGO.

However, he did not agree he was bound by constraints when working for the government.
"Every place has its rules. I have to play by the rules at the WWF as well. The WWF is not necessarily 100-percent free," he said.

"I will put a project aside when I feel there is no progress and wait for the right time to continue the work."
He agreed there are plus sides to working with an NGO compared to the government. NGOs are more transparent in operation, more flexible in decision-making and involve more participation of different stakeholders, he said.

Conservation of animals at an NGO, however, is by no means easier. He felt "a sense of achievement, but it was very tiring."

Once widespread in southern and eastern China and in Myanmar and North Vietnam, today the giant panda is sparsely scattered across six mountain ranges in southwestern China: Minshan, Qinling,
Qionglai, Liangshan, Daxiangling and Xiaoxiangling. There are about 1,600 pandas in China, according to the third National Giant Panda Survey conducted by the State Forestry Administration and the WWF in 2003. Their population is fragmented into about 18 smaller populations.

Although significant achievements in conservation of the panda and its habitat have been made, threats toward the long-term survival remain to be resolved.

Apart from degradation and fragmentation of panda habitat, the panda still suffers from human activities like logging, poaching, farming and construction projects. Forty-three percent of panda habitats and 29 percent of its population are not yet effectively protected by nature reserves and protected areas, according to the WWF booklet The Green Heart of China-Integrated Landscape Conservation and Sustainable Development in Giant Panda Ranges in the Upper Reaches of the Yangtze River.

The WWF hopes by 2030, that threats to the survival of the panda will be managed and decreased, leaving a visible panda population living in the forests of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.
Panda conservation efforts

1950s – China releases Guidelines for Rare Wildlife Conservation and begins conservation efforts to protect pandas.

1963-1965 – The first four panda reserves -- Baihe (1963), Labahe (1963), Wolong (1963) and Wanglang (1965) are established and a nature decree issued banning the hunting of a list of animals, including the panda.

1970s – China adds Dafengding, Tangjiahe, Jiuzhaigou and Yueba reserves.

1974-77 – The first National Giant Panda Survey is carried out by the Ministry of Forestry, now the State Forestry Administration. The survey yields important population and distribution data, and estimates about 1,000-1,100 remaining pandas survive in the wild.

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