Giant Panda Survey 2004 - Q&A's | WWF

Giant Panda Survey 2004 - Q&A's

Posted on 10 June 2004    
Ailuropoda melanoleuca Giant panda in a tree. Wolong Research Centre, Sichuan Province,
Q&As - Panda Survey 2004

What is a panda survey?

A panda survey is a census of the giant panda population and distribution, and the status of its habitat. In addition, information on the socioeconomic situation of the human communities in the panda habitat was collected to identify the link between the threats pandas face and human activities. The information revealed by the survey provides a basis for effective conservation strategy for the giant panda.
What was the purpose of the 3rd national survey?

To gain a clear idea of the number, distribution and status of habitat of the wild panda population; To gain a clear idea of the number, distribution and family tree of the captive panda population; To establish a comprehensive monitoring mechanism for the national giant panda population and its habitat; To establish a global information system (GIS) for the giant panda; To improve conservation awareness among local governments and populations in areas of panda habitat; To provide a new strategy and recommendations for future panda conservation and management.
Content of the 3rd national survey on the giant panda: Number of population and distribution The status of vegetation in the giant panda habitat, especially of the bamboo forest The level of disturbances to the panda and its habitat Situation of the conservation work related to the giant panda Status of the captive panda population Socio-economic situation in and around the panda habitat 

What are the results of the 3rd National Survey?

The census has found that there are nearly 1600 pandas left in the wild, more than 40 percent previously known to exist. The survey has also found that there are 23,049km2 of panda habitat in China.
Does that mean the number of pandas has increased since the last survey?

It is unlikely the number of pandas in the wild has increased substantially since the last survey. What has changed is that we now have much more reliable figures on numbers of pandas and their distribution than ever before. 
So were you being inefficient in the past?

No. WWF and the Chinese authorities were working with the best possible research methods and data available at that time.
How many reserves are known to have pandas, based on the new survey?

Based on the information from the State Forestry Administration of China, the latest information showed that there are 40 reserves with pandas in China. 
How many people were involved in the 3rd survey?

172 survey staff were involved in the 3rd national survey. They were supported by a number of porters and guides from local communities. 

Results of the survey
What is the total number of pandas found compared to previous surveys?

The survey found that there just under 1600 pandas in the wild. In the 1st National Survey, carried out between 1974 and 1977 the figures were around 1000-1,100. In the 2nd National Survey, carried out between 1985 and 1988, the figures were around 1000. 
What is the total area of panda habitat compared to previous surveys?
i.e. where do the pandas live? 
The 3rd National Survey found over 23,000km2 of panda habitat. In 1975, this figure was 29,500km2 and in 1985, about 13,000km2. 
So is there now more panda habitat than in the previous survey?

Because the 3rd survey area was much bigger than the previous one and the methodology used was different, we cannot really compare the two habitat areas. However, since the Chinese government banned commercial logging across the giant pandas’ entire range in 1998, we hope that once recovery measures are implemented, giant panda habitat will gradually expand.
What else did the survey find?

That the distribution area of the giant panda extended beyond that revealed by the 2nd survey. 11 more counties were found with panda distribution compared to those revealed by the 2nd survey. 

In Shaanxi Province, the survey showed that there were new areas of panda distribution in Liuba County and Ningqiang County. This indicates that the northernmost distribution of the giant panda has moved 10 km further north. 

A new panda distribution area in northern Minshan was found through the survey and a new nature reserve has been created there by the Chinese government. 

The survey has confirmed that the northern slope of the Qinling mountain range is a permanent panda habitat instead of a summer habitat. 
Panda range in Shaanxi Province was found to be more extensive in the north and east, and an isolated new population has been found at the junction between Ningshan, Zhenan and Zhashui counties.
The major factors disturbing the panda habitat are: Grazing Herb collection Bamboo harvesting Bamboo shoot collection Poaching Large scale development activities, e.g. tourism and mining.
What size is the area of panda habitat in each of the three provinces where pandas live?

Sichuan: 17743.92km2
Shaanxi: 3478.64km2
Gansu: 1827.35km2
How many reserves are now known to have panda populations?

40 reserves around China 
What percentage of pandas live under protection in reserves?

Around 61% or 986 pandas are under protection in panda reserves 
What percentage of panda habitat is now under protection?

About 45% of total panda habitat or 10400km2 is now under protection in panda reserves. 
How do the results of the 3rd national survey compare to the previous surveys?

It is not possible to compare results as a whole. The 3rd national survey is different from the previous survey in a number of ways, including:
Survey area: The new survey covered the whole of the area known to have a panda population as well as the areas thought to potentially have populations. The previous survey used a sample area to calculate the total panda population.
Habitat and distribution area: The 3rd national survey team visited all panda habitat. The previous survey calculated the number of pandas based on a sample area and then extrapolated the distribution area from this figure.
Methodology: The new survey used Global Positioning System, Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System to identify panda distribution. This method is much more accurate than the previous methods.
Analysis: The analysis of the 3rd survey focuses more on the changes of habitat and future trends. The 2nd survey focused more on the number of pandas and their distribution. 
However useful comparisons can be made between the two surveys within specific areas, such as within the reserves. 
How can you be sure that a panda was not counted twice or more?

The methodology used in this panda survey was selected as the most reliable after comparison of different methodologies, and a lengthy discussion in the panda Specialist Group (see below for details on the group).

WWF Involvement

Why did WWF support the survey?

The giant panda is a unique animal. It is not only the national treasure of China, but also a symbol of conservation and one of WWF's flagship species. In order to develop an effective conservation strategy it is necessary to have an understanding of the status of the panda population and its habitat. WWF has invested in collecting this baseline information to ensure that our future conservation work is even more targeted and effective. 
What was the role of WWF in the 3rd national survey?

WWF provided financial and technical support to the 3rd national survey. Representatives from WWF were in the survey's steering group and the specialist advisory group. 

Looking to the future

So what happens next?

The national panda survey has provided comprehensive information on the status of the giant panda, its distribution and conservation needs. Based on the information, WWF will co-operate with the Chinese government to develop a new conservation strategy and actions for the giant panda. WWF has also identified Minshan and Qinling mountain ranges as the priority area for panda conservation. The focus of our work will be the networking of existing reserves through ecological corridors and buffer zones, and through joint monitoring and anti-poaching activities.
Have the results of the 3rd survey already been used in conservation work, and if yes, how?

Yes, they have already been used. In Sichuan province, WWF has worked with Sichuan Forestry Department on the monitoring and patrolling network for the pandas in the Minshan mountain range. Sichuan Forestry Department developed transect lines for monitoring and patrolling based on the 3rd national survey results.
In Shaanxi province, 12 new panda reserves and five ecological corridors have been designed based on the data collected through the 3rd national survey. By the end of August, 2002, the provisional government of Shaanxi approved the creation of five new panda reserves and five ecological corridors. With the establishment of corridors and new reserves, the protected area for pandas in the Qinling mountain range has increased to over 150, 000 ha (1,500km2). 
When will the next survey be?

We hope not to have another large-scale survey but to use the monitoring information collected regularly by the panda reserve staff to update information on the giant panda and its habitat. This 3rd national survey will be used as the baseline information for establishing a dynamic database on the Chinese panda population.
Are there surveys on other animals in China?

Yes, a survey has been done on the South China Tiger, and the Chinese government also conducts national surveys on other terrestrial animals and marine species.

Other questions
How many pandas are in captivity?

There were about 166 captive pandas by the end of 2003. 
How much can a panda pelt be sold for?
No information is available on the market end of panda pelt trade. From the existing cases, we learned that it could be sold for a price various from US$25 to US$66,500.

Methodology for the survey
When was the survey done and how long did it take?

The 3rd national survey was launched officially in the Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province in April 2000. The fieldwork took two years to complete. Prior to the official launch, a survey was conducted in Pingwu County in 1998 and a pilot survey was conducted in Qinchuan County, Sichuan Province from October 1999 to January 2000.
The survey took so long to complete because of its thoroughness, and because most of the areas where pandas are found are in remote and arduous mountain ranges, only accessible on foot. 
What was the methodology used in the 3rd national survey?

The survey methodology for identifying and counting pandas was constrained by steep and difficult terrain, accessibility, cost, and time. The combination of these factors precludes the use of traditional line-transect techniques typically employed to survey mammals (Anderson et al. 1979, Buckland et al. 1993).
Instead, transect lines designed for the survey covered all the known and potential panda distributed areas in the three provinces. The survey areas were identified according to different habitat types, panda range in different seasons, distribution of panda edible bamboo species, vegetation types, landscapes etc. One transect line is usually designed within every 200 ha (2km2 
Typically, a survey team establishes a base camp in a river valley and partitions the valley into survey blocks. Each survey team member is allocated a section of habitat, limited to 2 km2, to survey per day. The typical survey team consists of 40 people, who are further divided into small groups of two to three people. A team can therefore cover approximately 80 km2 of habitat daily. Each team member is free to decide the best route to traverse from the river to the ridgeline. Each team member searches for signs of panda activity, including faeces, tree scent marks, feeding sites, den sites, or visual contact. If a team member finds a sign of panda activity he or she fills out a form, which includes both panda and habitat information. Panda faeces were the most common sign found in the survey and were also used to determine the minimum number of pandas within a habitat block.   Panel Summary: Assessing the habitat and distribution of the giant panda: methods and issues
By Colby Loucks and Wang Hao at San Diego Panda 2000 Conference

How do you count the number of pandas?

The number of pandas is estimated through a comprehensive analysis of the individuals seen in the wild, measurement of bamboo-bites in the droppings collected from the wild, other signs, home range and interviews with local people.
The technique used to ‘count’ pandas is the ‘bite-size technique’. Pandas digest very little of the plant material and will defecate the majority of their bamboo intake. Giant pandas eat for more than 12 hours every day, and do so in a repetitive manner. While eating the stalk of bamboo the panda will push the stalk into its mouth and bite down. When this bite has been cleared of its mouth, it will bite down again and continue eating in this manner for hours at a time. Chinese investigators have determined that the average bite-size of an individual panda is not likely to vary by more than a few millimetres (Wang et al. In prep.), and that different individual pandas have different average bite sizes. Therefore, it is possible to collect and measure the average bite-size of bamboo pieces in faeces collected during the survey, and from this information determine the number of pandas that have produced the collected faeces. It has been found that different individual pandas have different average bite sizes. Combining this information with average home range sizes for pandas, the survey team can determine the minimum number of pandas in a given habitat block (Wang et al. in prep). 

Panel Summary: Assessing the habitat and distribution of the giant panda: methods and issues
By Colby Loucks and Wang Hao at San Diego Panda 2000 Conference

We usually say that there are around 13,000km2 of panda habitat remaining. How does the survey area relate to this figure?

The survey covered both known panda habitat and also areas that were thought to potentially have panda populations. For instance, the former logging areas were not included in the last survey, but were covered in this 3rd survey.
What area did the 3rd national survey cover?

The total area surveyed covers 11,174 transect lines, 54 counties, 223 towns and villages in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, and 23 captive breeding institutions.
Who supervised the survey? How often do they meet? Is there a relationship with the Bear Specialist Group (IUCN)? Do we have a photo (or photos) and names of the members of the Survey specialist group?

The panda Specialist Group was established specifically for the 3rd national survey on the giant panda and its habitat by the Chinese government. It is composed of 14 specialists who are experienced in panda research and conservation. The Group evaluated the methodology, monitoring the survey during its implementation and provided recommendations and evaluated the final report.

Feng Zuojian, Zoological Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Researcher

Yu Changqing, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Researcher
Feng Wenhe, Sichuan University, Professor
Liu Naifa, Lanzhou University, Professor
Lu Zhi, Peking University, Professor
Chen Dayuan, Zoological Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Researcher
Zhang Hemin, Wolong Nature Reserve Management Bureau, Senior Engineer
Song Yanling, Zoological Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Researcher
Yang Guang, Nanjing Normal University, Associate Professor
Hu Jinchu, Sichuan Normal College, Professor
Huang Chengming, Guanxi Normal University, Professor
Yong Yange, Foping Nature Reserve Management Bureau, Senior Engineer
Pan Wenshi, Peking University, Professor
Wei Fuwen, Zoological Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Researcher 

The first and second surveys:

When was the earliest national survey conducted? And what was the result?

The first panda survey was undertaken between 1974 and 1977, with much of the work being done in mid-1975. This census involved about 3,000 people who, in units established by local counties roamed through the whole of the panda's range estimating numbers on the basis of sightings and spoor. Because of the great difficulty of counting a silent, solitary animal confined to dense vegetation in remote mountains, the results can only be taken as a rough estimate (Schaller et all, 1985, the Giant Pandas of Wolong, Chicago University Press). According to the State Forestry Administration of China, there were around 1-1000 pandas. 
When was the second national survey? And what was the result?

In autumn 1985 a joint panda survey team of 35 people was organized and trained by the Ministry of Forestry (the present State Forestry Administration of China), the Sichuan Forestry Bureau and WWF. Over a three-year period more than 30 counties with panda populations were surveyed in Sichuan Province. Similar surveys were also undertaken in the Wenxian County of Gansu and nine counties of Shaanxi Province. The objectives of the survey were to quantitatively determine the abundance and distribution of pandas, forest, bamboo and people throughout the entire range of the panda. 
In addition to using the same census methods as used in the 1975 surveys (to permit direct comparisons) the team also used a line-transect sampling technique to estimate panda densities on the basis of bed-site densities. Pandas are estimated to use 45 bed sites per month. The resulting estimate was 1,100.
GIS analysis and surveys completed in 1974/5 and 1985/8 revealed that the area of habitat occupied by pandas had been reduced from over 29,500km2 to only about 13,000km2 (Reid and Gong 1999, Schaller et all, 1993).

For further information:
Li Ning WWF-China,  tel.: +86 10 6522 7100 ext. 223
Ailuropoda melanoleuca Giant panda in a tree. Wolong Research Centre, Sichuan Province,
© WWF / Fritz PÖLKING Enlarge
Mixed forest in the mist. Giant panda habitat. Qin Ling Mountains, Shaanxi Province, China
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER Enlarge
Giant panda Tracks in the snow Wolong Nature Reserve, China
© WWF / Donald G. REID Enlarge
Giant Panda, 8 months old Male born 5.10.1994 Wolong, China May 1995
© WWF / Susan A. MAINKA Enlarge

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