The white face, the black ears, the unmistakable shape – the world loves pandas. But they're one of the most threatened species on the planet. In fact, there are fewer than 1,600 left in the wild. But today, there's hope. Conservation International, with the participation of some exceptional partners and leading panda scientists, is launching a comprehensive plan for panda conservation.
ON VIDEO: Jack Black talks panda survival on this hip new video.
The Importance of Pandas
"Pandas are a flagship species," says our partner Dr. Lu Zhi, director of the Shanshui Center for Nature & Society and one of the world’s foremost panda experts. “They’re iconic, and they’ve come to represent all threatened species. Saving the panda tests our determination. If we can’t protect the panda, then what chance do all the other threatened species have?”
The plight of the panda also symbolizes larger conservation issues. Within the area that encompasses what’s left of the pandas’ habitat in China, nearly 40 percent of all mammal species are now also threatened.
Current Status: Endangered
The situation is dire. The giant panda is listed among the world’s most threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). When we add the number of pandas living inside the eight existing panda ranges with the number of pandas currently in captivity, the total population is less than 2,000.
MAP: Take a closer look at the distance between panda populations.
A History of Threats
The panda’s own reproductive activity creates a challenge to its survival. The female ovulates only once a year, creating a naturally slow breeding rate that prevents the population from recovering quickly from reduction.
But the major historical cause of the panda’s threatened status has been the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat, primarily through logging. The effects of deforestation in panda habitats reach well beyond China and impact humans, too. Each acre of destroyed forest releases stored carbon, contributing more to climate change than the global transportation sector. So while habitat protection is critical for defending threatened species like pandas, it also works to curb global warming and promote human livelihood.
LEARN MORE: CI is protecting forests around the world, one acre at a time.
Small Steps Back from the Brink
Recent decades have seen some substantial efforts to save the panda. In 1998, for example, China instituted a national logging ban, greatly diminishing the destruction of panda habitat. New nature reserves have been established, helping to limit the decline of the panda population.
A New Batch of Problems
Today, the panda faces other challenges. Their remaining habitats are being further fragmented by road construction, dam building, city expansion, and tourism. In addition, impending climate change means the availability of shelter and food could be significantly impacted in the future.
Half of the world’s pandas still live outside of designated protected areas. And more than 300,000 people live within the panda ranges, putting immense pressure on the wild panda population. One of the most difficult challenge the panda faces is the fact that their existing habitats are disastrously fragmented.
A New Plan for Pandas
CI’s goal is nothing less than to halt the decline of the panda population, protect and revive the forests where they live, create mechanisms for local communities to support and benefit from conservation activities, and promote policy innovations by the Chinese government that provide better regulation of development and incentives for local protection.
Safeguarding the panda requires a comprehensive approach and a focused strategy for success. The CI plan for pandas involves the following efforts:
- The Giant Panda Survival Plan – this comprehensive strategy consists of short- and long-term goals, reaching out as far as 200 years. Planned accomplishments include protecting 100 percent of known panda habitat, providing better protection programs to the reserves, developing at least 12 “conservation corridors” to connect habitats, and creating a comprehensive panda population monitoring plan.
- The Panda Alliance – this impressive network of leading conservation groups, academics, government agencies, private corporations, and local communities will work to protect habitat, establish a panda guardian program, involve local communities, promote the benefits of panda conservation, and more.
- Key Policy Promotion – through a partnership with Peking University, CI will support the launching of a policy center to provide government and business leaders with science-based data to inform their decisions, produce solution-oriented policy research, and facilitate collaboration in conservation.
- Inspiring panda-lovers worldwide to take action – through effective working relationships with public and private-sector partners such as McDonald’s and DreamWorks, we’ll inform the public about the plight of the panda, and what they can do to help.
While the few pandas left in the world today face a challenging future, a renewed commitment to saving them provides new optimism. Through the combined efforts of government, science, corporations, and people who care, pandas can survive for future generations to enjoy.