China’s panda population on the rise as habitat preservation efforts continue

Posted on February, 28 2015

BEIJING (February 28, 2015) -- The worldwide population of wild giant pandas increased by 268 over the last decade according to a new survey conducted by the government of China. The increase in population brings the total number of wild giant pandas to 1,864.
The population increase represents a 16.8% rise compared to the last panda survey in 2003. Wild giant pandas, a global symbol of wildlife conservation, are found only in China's Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.
According to the report, formally known as the Fourth National Giant Panda Survey, the geographic range of pandas throughout China also increased. The total area inhabited by wild giant pandas in China now equals 2,577,000 hectares, an expansion of 11.8% since 2003.
“These results are a testament to the conservation achievements of the Chinese government,” said Xiaohai Liu, executive director of programmes, WWF-China. “A lot of good work is being done around wild giant panda conservation, and the government has done well to integrate these efforts and partner with conservation organizations including WWF.”
The report, the fourth in a series of decadal surveys conducted by the State Forestry Administration of China, began in 2011 with financial and technical support from WWF.  
Much of the success in increasing the panda population comes as a result of conservation policies implemented by the Chinese government, including the Natural Forest Protection Project and Grain for Green.
The report found that 1246 wild giant pandas live within nature reserves, accounting for 66.8% of the total wild population, and the habitat within nature reserves accounts for 53.8% of the total habitat area. There are currently 67 panda nature reserves in China, an increase of 27 since the last report.
“WWF is pleased to witness this significant conservation achievement — the increase of both the wild giant panda population size and habitat area over last ten years,” said Liu. “The survey result demonstrates the effectiveness of nature reserves in boosting wild giant panda numbers.”

WWF supports the government's work by establishing panda nature reserves and a conservation network that integrates those reserves with forests farms and corridors of bamboo which allow pandas to find more food and meet new breeding mates. WWF ensures the legal protection of a large percentage of panda habitat and an improvement in how conservation efforts are carried out. WWF's work also facilitated the wild giant panda survey.
Although the survey recorded an increase in population and habitat area, the wild giant panda still faces severe challenges. According to the survey, 46.2% of panda habitats and 33.2% of the panda population are outside of protected nature reserves. Habitat fragmentation – the separation of wildlife population by physical barriers – is increasingly noticeable with about 12% individuals facing higher risks to their survival.
Traditional threats to pandas such as poaching appear to be declining, but large-scale disturbances including mining, hydro-power, tourism and infrastructure construction are becoming more severe and were referenced in the government panda survey for the first time. 

WWF's 2015-2025 giant panda conservation strategy sets the course for panda protection efforts over the next decade and will focus on improving panda habitat in a manner that balances conservation with local sustainable development.
“WWF will be working together with our partners and the public to protect a sustainable wild giant panda population and habitat over the next ten years,” said Liu. “In combination with a drive for healthy ecosystem services and welfare for the people living in the landscapes, this will best address the challenges highlighted in the survey.”
Giant panda conservation efforts benefit many other rare species of animals and plants in the southwest China biodiversity hotspot. The giant panda’s habitat is a protective umbrella for endangered species such as the takin, golden monkey, red panda, and crested ibis. Forests within the giant panda’s habitat feature major water conservation areas that flow to the densely populated Yangtze River Basin. 

Giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca - a 6 year old male eating bamboo.
© WWF / Susan A. MAINKA
Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) resting, Panda Breeding Centre, Wolong Panda Reserve, Sichuan Province, China.
© Bernard DE WETTER / WWF