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Saving Pandas – One Last Chance MAG
On September 23, 2012, the world's newest panda born in captivity died at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The baby panda, unnamed because of the Chinese tradition of naming pandas after one hundred days of life, was only a week old. Although the loss was heartbreaking to many, it also raised a question: Should efforts be made to save the giant panda?
TV naturalist Chris Packham claims that the species is “stuck in an evolutionary cul-de-sac” and is too far gone to save. His controversial article in the Los Angeles Times asserted that more emphasis should be placed on preserving carnivorous animals that would control the populations of other species. The conservationist claimed that the giant panda is not strong enough to survive on its own and it would be better to let nature take its course.
Although some scientists may agree with Packham, pandas still benefit their ecosystem in many ways. For example, they help the growth of bamboo by spreading its seeds. Pandas eat an average of 30 to 60 pounds per day. If the pandas died out, bamboo could not properly grow in the regions of China that the giant panda inhabits.
In Asia, bamboo has been and is one of the most important plants in history. It is used in thousands of ways, including for housing, food, medicine, landscaping, and furniture. Few animals eat this hard-to-digest, low-nutrition food, so the panda is vital in helping the bamboo to thrive.
The giant panda is one of the most iconic species on the planet, with its black and white fluffy fur and unbeatable cuteness, but after many years of being threatened by environmental changes and loss of habitat, these beautiful bears could be extinct in just a few generations. The giant panda is the rarest species of bear, with only 1,600 remaining, and most of those live in captivity. Even though their number are slowly increasing due to conversation efforts and charities, the future of the panda remains uncertain.
In China's Yangtze Basin region, the panda's main habitat, the forest is being destroyed by roads and railroads. The breaking up of forest means that pandas live further from each other, which results in less mating. The Yangtze Basin is in the heart of China's most populated area, and industry is quickly expanding into wild areas that pandas occupy. The Chinese government has established more than 50 panda reserves, but only 60 percent of the country's panda population is protected by these reserves.
Logging has become another major problem, resulting in fewer large trees, the favorite spot for mother pandas to nest with cubs. This allows for fewer safe, dry places for the mother to raise her cub, and therefore, fewer cubs reaching adulthood. Pandas have an average of one cub a year, which is about the size of a human palm at birth and is totally dependent on its mother to survive. Many cubs do not make it to adulthood, and logging in panda-occupied areas contributes to high mortality rates.
Although the illegal poaching of pandas has been reduced by recent strict laws and regulations, hunters still kill pandas accidently while hunting other animals. Snares set to catch animals such as musk deer sometimes trap and kill pandas too.
Also, the loss of pandas could start a massive wave of extinctions in other species. The only animal that threatens the giant panda is humans, and if nothing is done to stop the declining numbers, extinctions of other animals in the panda's home of southeastern China could follow. In addition to giant pandas, rare crested ibis and golden monkeys populate the Minshan and Qinling mountain ranges in the Yangtze Basin. Both of these species play an important role to the ecosystem. Species rely on each other for survival because of the impact they have on the food chain and environment, and with the extinction of the panda, other species could be affected in China and beyond.
Luckily, there are many organizations to help the panda. The World Wildlife Fund (whose official mascot is the panda) has played a part in helping the species since its creation in 1961. Pandas International, another nonprofit organization, provides supplies, medical care, and food for pandas. They have worked extensively since the 2008 earthquake that destroyed the Wolong Panda Center and reserve.
Pandas are an important part of the world's ecosystem, and a significant impact would be felt if they were gone. Though there are few left, these beautiful creatures can be saved if action is taken quickly and enough support is given. Organizations dedicated to saving the panda need our help. To learn more and get involved in the cause, visit worldwildlife.org/species/giant-panda.