China creates giant panda park half the size of Wales – and it’s adorable
For decades the giant panda was the iconic face of all endangered species.
But the cuddly black and white bear has made significant progress in recent years, growing in numbers from about 1,200 in the 1980s and 1,864 counted in 2015.
The good news meant the species’ threat level was downgraded from endangered to threatened in 2016.
And many credit China's heightened efforts over the last decades to protect the panda population and its habitat with its ressurgence.
Now, the Chinese government has gone further, creating a supersized national park for the bears.
It which spans across the areas where the 30 known groups of pandas live.
Giant Panda National Park will cover 10,476 square miles of southwestern China – half the area of Wales and three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
The new park will restore and reconnect fragmented panda habitats in an effort to reunite bear populations that have become separated from each other.
Conservationists believe that reunited giant panda groups will give them a better chance to breed, helping to boost numbers of the bear even further.
One of the problems with protecting the pandas is that they have a very low reproductive rate, with females generally only fertile for one to three days each year.
And they give birth usually only once every two years.
But it is hoped the new park will give the bears room to roam and find mates, increasing their chances of survival.
Most of the park will be in Sichuan Province, home to more than 80 per cent of wild pandas, and where in 2008 a huge magnitude 8 earthquake destroyed large swathes of panda habitat, as well as several pandas.
This and other natural disasters, as well as logging, road construction, agriculture and human encroachment, have degraded the landscape and broken up populations.
The mammal is now confined to to six mountain ranges and split into 30 groups, some of which have few than a dozen individuals.
Marc Brody, a founder of the ecotourism and conservation organisation Panda Mountain said he is pleased the Chinese government is “specifically targeting habitat rather than focusing solely on the animals.
“That’s why this park’s mission really matters.
"Habitat will remain patchy until degraded lands are restored and stronger land-use restrictions get enforced that make wildlife corridors possible.”
If such corridors become reality, “that will be the exciting legacy of this park,” he said.
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