A Hope for Tomorrow: The Plight of Giant Pandas
In southwestern Asia lies a landscape of towering mountain peaks, steep valleys, and thick bamboo forests shrouded by mist and cloud. Deep in the forest, lazily gnawing on a bamboo shoot, you’ll discover the iconic giant panda. Unmistakable white face, black ears, robust shape, and easy going demeanor- the world has easily fallen in love with pandas. Found naturally only in China, these creatures are clinging to survival (“Pandas”). Its misty refuge lies in a region of unparalleled biodiversity that is shared by man and wildlife combined. Without a doubt, man is the greatest threat of all to the giant panda. Between demands for natural resources, clearing forests for the ever expanding population, and prowling poachers, the pandas of the world are in grave danger. In order for future generations to admire these mysterious and awe-inspiring creatures, we must somehow find a balance between development and conservation.
The giant panda is a creature of mystery in need of immediate attention. Once, the panda roamed freely in the mountain lowlands from Myanmar through northern Vietnam and much of China, but clear-cutting has destroyed the bamboo forests that make up their natural habitat. More than 50% of these forests have been lost in the past few decades alone, and are not easily replaced. Bamboo only flowers every 80 to 100 years, and takes 20 years to grow enough to sustain a panda population (“Save the Giant Panda”). In the Sichuan Province alone, the bamboo forests shrank by half their size between 1974 and 1989. In retaliation to such a large decrease, the Chinese government banned logging in the panda’s habitat in 1998 (“People and Pandas”). However, the panda still remained in danger and the fight for land continued. When logging of the natural habitat was banned, new threats emerged such as mining, hydropower development, and irresponsible tourism. These activities, along with farming and road construction, have replaced commercial logging to remedy the revenue loss from the ban (“People”). Across the remaining panda range, habitats have been subjected to areas of deforestation and construction, making the little amount of bamboo inaccessible. Because they cannot migrate between the human infestation and adequate food supply, pandas have less flexibility to find new feeding areas during the periodic bamboo flowering and dying-off episodes (“Pandas”). Unable to disperse to other habitats in times of food shortage, sadly, many of the world’s remaining pandas have died of starvation. As the demand for industry revenue increases, the former abundance of China’s giant pandas dwindle.
Industrial interests are not the only plight of giant pandas. They must also compete with people for living space. Like any other endangered species, the human population has played a major role in reducing the number of pandas in the wild (“Giant Panda”). People have shared the environment with the panda for centuries and have relied on the area for their livelihood. Millions of people live around and in the panda’s habitat, causing a ripple in nature’s plan (“People”). As the economic activity increases, more people continue to move into the areas, adding immense pressure to the already overburdened ecosystem. However, the solution of habitat loss is challenging in China because of the demand for land and resources by a population of over one billion people. Elizabeth Kemf of the World Wildlife Foundation states “The only hope for the future of the panda is to balance the needs of humans and the needs of the panda. Giant pandas need vast areas of temperate mountain forests with lots of bamboo; people living in the vicinity of the animals need secure natural resources for survival.” (“Rescuing Optimism”) Due to this, one of the most difficult challenges the panda faces is the fact that their existing habitats are disastrously distorted and fragmented by the human...
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