Are Giant Pandas in the clear? Don’t speak too soon…

Desiigner’s popular trap song Panda topped the US Billboard Hot 100 list in late April of 2016, but what’s less common knowledge is that the natural habitat of the giant panda population in China is currently under immense pressure. In 1984, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared the giant panda an endangered species. 31 years later, in 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reclassified the giant panda’s conservation status to “vulnerable” after a population increase of 16.8% since 2013. With great news like this, why is the giant panda still a concern?


Photo Credit: Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) “Tian Tian” by cliff1066 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In terms of its sheer amount, there’s a lot of land available for the preservation of the giant panda in China, but it isn’t being used properly. A 2016 study conducted by Zhang et al. at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing describes how these nature reserves were originally designed with only large size in mind, completely disregarding the conduction of field surveys that would have given detailed accounts of the land’s contents.1 The same study also found that some of the core zones (areas contributing to ecosystem and species conservation where humans are not allowed) in these nature reserves “fail to cover the main conservation target, and include areas of low conservation value, such as villages, and even towns.”1 Clearly, size is not everything.


To make matters worse, human activities occurring in China, the fastest developing country in the world, have continued to threaten the giant panda’s habitat.1 Efforts to establish more protected areas are constantly met with the challenge of human contact in the vicinity. According to a 2016 study by Kong et al., also from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, human activities such as mining, hydropower stations, tourism, and both residential and agricultural areas all “cause reductions and fragmentation of the panda habitat, further threatening the current panda conservation system.”2


Yet another issue facing the giant pandas is the lack of proper organization and management of the protected areas in which they live. The federal government of China is officially in charge of the protected areas on both land and sea but different administrations and agencies make the majority of the management decisions regarding these areas. In fact, each protected area can, and often does, have more than one governing body in charge of it. The advantage of multiple managing bodies is that they declare multiple diverse objectives for the protected area, resulting in more funding from government agencies. Unfortunately, each of the agencies in charge of a protected area must agree on decisions made regarding the protected area, and this sometimes results in “over-develop[ing] tourism, compromising important values…and…poor performance on cultural promotion.”1 When the federal government actually does make a decision regarding its protected areas, it tends to be a “top-down general ban [that] hardly fits into the diverse contexts of PAs, and may even impede achieving conservation goals,” says Zhang. Furthermore, the managing agencies in charge of the protected areas also must deal with the decisions made by the people currently living in or nearby areas which have recently been declared as such. In the late 1990s, there was even a community which, having heard that their land had been taken from them for the purposes of a protected area, rushed “to exploit or destroy resources or before [their] access was denied.”1


With all of this evidence put forth, some critics still claim that protected areas are not as productive at their mission as they should be because they lack adequate funding, leading to “the increase of revenue-raising activities” which eventually result in “over-consumption of natural resources…and disturbance to wildlife.”1 While this is a legitimate concern, Zhang et al. found that over 65% of nature reserves do receive adequate funding and that the “amount of funds for NRs has been increasing on average by 13.7% per year since 2001.”1


Although the conservation status of the giant panda was declared no longer endangered only a year ago, we cannot afford to develop a false sense of security that the battle ends here. There must be a push for better management of the protected areas that exist currently and for development of more protected areas where the giant panda resides.




  1. Zhang, Lyubing, Zhenhua Luo, David Mallon, Chunwang Li, and Zhigang Jiang. “Biodiversity Conservation Status in China’s Growing Protected Areas.” Biological Conservation (2016): 1-10. Web.
  2. Kong, Lingqiao, Weihua Xu, Lu Zhang, Minghao Gong, Yi Xiao, and Zhiyun Ouyang. “Habitat Conservation Redlines for the Giant Pandas in China.” Biological Conservation(2016): 1-6. Web.
This entry was posted in Conservation Biology Posts, Conservation Editorials 2016. Bookmark the permalink.

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