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After a significant increase in recent years, China now boasts a network of 67 panda reserves, which safeguard almost two-thirds of the giant pandas in the wild and just over half of their existing habitat.
But habitat loss and fragmentation remain the gravest threats to the survival of the species.
A large proportion of the panda's habitat has already been lost: logged for timber and fuel wood, or cleared for agriculture and infrastructure to meet the needs of the area's booming population.
The Chinese government banned logging in the panda's habitat in 1998, but new roads and railways are continuing to cut through the region, further fragmenting the forests. This isolates panda populations and prevents them from breeding.
It also leaves them more vulnerable to bamboo die-offs. Bamboo naturally dies off every 40-120 years, depending on the type. In the past, pandas could migrate to new areas in search of food, but nowadays that they are no longer able to ‘follow’ the bamboo.
Grazing cattle within a giant panda reserve. Wanglang Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province
The panda's mountainous forests continue to be degraded by people harvesting bamboo, gathering firewood and collecting medicinal herbs.
The Minshan Mountains alone contain over 5,000 plant species: 75% of which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Harvesting these medicinal plants provides many families with an important source of income. But it also places additional pressure on the fragile forests.
As does mass tourism. The construction of tourist facilities and the rapidly increasing number of tourists in the forests is causing significant disturbance to pandas and their habitats.
Some poaching of pandas still occurs. Hunting the animals for their fur has declined due to strict laws and greater public awareness of the panda’s protected status.
While it is rare for poachers to intentionally kill a panda, some are accidentally injured or killed by traps and snares set for other animals, such as musk deer and black bears.