Chinese Taking Measures to Protect Giant Pandas

Environmental protection programs recently enacted by the Chinese government augur well for the future of the giant panda, according to the article, “Giant Pandas in a Changing Landscape,” published in the November 16 issue of Science by a Yale faculty member.

The Chinese government’s Natural Forest Conservation Program of 1998 aims to provide strict protection to all remaining forests throughout the panda’s range, and the Grain-to-Green policy will restore hillside agricultural lands into forest or grasslands over the next five to 10 years.

“The Natural Forest Conservation Program and the Grain-to-Green policy provide an historic opportunity to move panda conservation from individual reserves to habitat conservation across landscapes,” according to the article’s author, Lu Zhi, a member of the visiting faculty at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and associate professor of biology at Beijing University.

Still, economic development in China threatens the panda, which is the world’s most widely recognized conservation icon. Lu said the Western China Development Program, which calls for substantial infrastructure development, hydropower generation, ecotourism development, and incentives to encourage domestic and international investment, will tax an already burdened land.

“Integrating conservation needs into development policies will be an important challenge,” Lu said.

Lu added that habitat loss and fragmentation has been a major threat to the future of China’s giant pandas. Most of China’s 24 fragmented panda populations have less than 50 individuals, too few, she said, to be viable over the long term.

“That’s why the Natural Forest Conservation Program needs to seriously consider building corridors and restoring wildlife habitats as part of the task which, unfortunately, has not included such a dimension yet,” said Lu. “But things can be changed.”

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326