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Homeless pandas

By Chen Heying (Global Times)    10:10, March 16, 2015

Numbers of the iconic animal grow but habitats are still threatened

(File photo)

About 60 research fellows were examining the excrement of pandas inch by inch deep in the mountains, collaborating with some 40 fellows back in the Sichuan-based China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda(CCRCGP), a research fellow who participated in the latest national giant panda survey told the Global Times.

They spent two years hunting for panda droppings in 49 counties of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces - home to China's wild pandas.

Calling themselves a "dung-seeking team," the research fellows took DNA from fecal samples to identify the gender of pandas, coupled with a more traditional method: analyzing the length of intact bamboo fragments left in feces and their unique bite size.

The researchers discovered that by the end of 2013, the population of giant pandas in the wild had increased by 16.8 percent to 1,864, compared to previous survey conducted in 2003, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) announced on February 28.

Meanwhile, environments suitable to act as giant panda habitats expanded by 11.8 percent to 2.58 million hectares from 2003.

The rise in panda numbers is "a testament to the commitment made by the Chinese government for the last 30-plus years" to help this iconic species, Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which supported the survey, was quoted by National Geographic as saying.

But experts have warned that human activities still pose high risks for the survival of pandas, while governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to strike a balance between humans and pandas.

Groups at risks

Experts reached by the Global Times agreed that the activities of locals living in or around panda habitats, such as herding, mining and infrastructure construction, put significant pressure on pandas' homes.

Humans living near pandas may encroach on their natural habitats and deprive them of food while new dams and roads may prevent different groups of pandas from coming into contact with each other, resulting in harmful inbreeding, the research fellow told the Global Times.

As a result of geographic condition and human intervention, there are 33 isolated groups of giant pandas in China today. Those deemed at risk live in 24 isolated groups and account for 12 percent of the wild population, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

A total of 22 groups with less than 30 individuals were found to be "on the brink of extinction." Among them, 18 groups with less than 10 individuals were "at extremely high risk of extinction."

Although there are 67 nature reserves, covering 3.36 million hectares, 42 percent of the natural habitats of pandas have not been incorporated into nature reserves, thepaper.cn reported.

"There are outstanding conflicts between the protection of the giant pandas and their habitats, and local socioeconomic development," said Chen Fengxue, deputy head of the SFA.


(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Kong Defang,Yao Chun)

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