How to Save the Giant Pandas
The GIant Panda is Critically Endangered
The icon of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the panda bear (known as the Giant Panda) has reached critically endangered status. In fact recently, some have suggested that it is not worth our efforts to continue trying to revive the species. BBC naturalist, Chris Packham made this shocking statement to Radio Times Magazine:
"Here's a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It's not a strong species. Unfortunately it's big and cute and it's a symbol of the WWF, and we pour millions of pounds into panda conservation. I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity."
Should we just let the species become extinct? What does that say about humankind as protector and defender of wildlife?
The primary reason that giant pandas are dying out is due to loss of habitat. Pandas rely on bamboo for their primary source of nourishment, and the plant is slow-growing. In their native lands of southeast Asia (primarily China), industrialization has resulted in the clearing of large swaths of bamboo forests, which drive the panda bears farther and farther in search of food. Many die of starvation before they can get to the next forest.
Learn More About Pandas
What can you Do to Help Save the Panda Bears?
Despite the comments of the BBC naturalist, a show showcases the efforts taken to save the giant panda bears, as well as koalas. Nature's Miracle Babies shows how offspring of endangered animals are born through artificial insemination.
Among other things the BBC series examines the Chinese breeding program of the giant panda (and other endangered species including the Yangtse soft shelled turtle, Amur leopard, Tasmanian Devil, Bonobo chimpanzee, cheetah and the koala).
One of the show's producers had this to say:
"This will be a highly charged personal journey for me. Many of the animals are just a hairs' breadth from extinction and sometimes the hopes of an entire species is concentrated in a few tiny, vulnerable babies.”
A total of five one-hour episodes are planned. However, you'll have to wait until 2011 for the new series to air.
So, what can you do in the meantime, if you are concerned about the plight of the panda bears? There are a number of sites at which you can donate or "adopt" a panda, including the WWF and Pandas International.
You can also help raise awareness regarding the endangered status of the Giant Panda. Here are some fast facts:
- Pandas have a very small fertility window (5 days) and are picky about their mates. This makes breeding difficult
- Chinese breeding programs for the Giant Panda utilize some procedures that are more commonly used in human fertility treatment
- Only about 1,600 Giant Pandas remain in the wild
- 200 Giant Pandas live in captivity world-wide
- Panda cubs are a mere 4-6 ounces at birth
- Giant Pandas can live about 25-30 years in captivity
- Pandas have become endangered in large part due to loss of habitat and fragmentation of bamboo forest "pockets" in which pandas live, isolated from others
- Humans are directly responsible for the decline in Giant Panda populations, from forest clearing to poaching to the exploding human population in China - it could be that recent measures are too little, too late
How did the Giant Panda Become Endangered?
The Giant Panda is a member of the bear family. However, unlike other bears, it does not hibernate. Its diet is almost exclusively of bamboo, which does not provide enough energy for the species to "stockpile" as fat. In fact, panda bears need to eat 20-30 pounds of bamboo shoots per day.
Given its diet, Giant Pandas live in bamboo forests, in central and south-western China. The relatively large species (ranging from 275-330 pounds) make their homes in mountainous regions. With urbanization and population growth in China, the bears have been pushed farther and farther up slope. Although 25 species of bamboo are typically eaten by pandas, only a few species are found at the higher elevations at which the bears now live.
In addition to the loss of habitat, pandas' low birth rate has also threatened its survival. These days, poaching of Giant Pandas is rare. However, its soft fur, skins and meat were sought by hunters during the 20th Century.
According to Wikipedia:
The Giant Panda is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals, and is one of the few in the world whose natural inhabitant status was able to gain a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Help Save Panda Bears
I love this list of things you can do to help save the panda bears, from Pandas International:
- Spread the word: share your passion to save the pandas. Free postcards are available from Panda International
- Sponsor or adopt a Giant Panda
- Sign up for monthly donations to Pandas International, or another organization
- Consider a project, speech or sponsorship through your classroom, if you are a student
- At your next celebration (birthday, holidays, etc.), ask guests to make a donation to help the pandas, rather than bring a gift
- Purchase specially-marked panda items for gifts - a portion of the proceeds helps the panda bears
- Clean out your attic or basement and hold a garage sale with proceeds going to help the pandas.
- Start an environmental club to help the pandas at your school or office.
- Host a fundraising event- lemonade stand, bake sale, sponsor a bike race
Don't Give Up Working to Save the Panda Bears!
Its hard to believe that people who call themselves conservationists are advocating that efforts to save the panda bears are a waste of money. While the BBC's Chris Packham and David Bellamy assert that there is not enough habitat to sustain Giant Pandas (and thus that they should not be bred in captivity), how can we stand by and simply watch this marvelous beast perish.... particularly because its endangered status is a result of our own actions?
Personally, I don't think that just because something is difficult that it should not be undertaken. After all, the panda is not endangered as a result of natural selection. Its habitat has been diminished and fragmented by our own actions. Its the least we can do to change our ways and help preserve the Giant Panda.
Take the poll to the right, and add your comments below. Consider lending your voice to the panda bears.
© 2009 Stephanie Hicks
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