The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is one of the most recognisable mammals alive today causing them to be categorised as a flagship species (figure 1). Flagship species play a key role within conservation, even becoming the emblem for WWF, shown in figure 2 (Kontoleon and Swanson, 2003). WWF define a flagship species as an iconic species that provide a focus for raising awareness, stimulating action and funding for conservation efforts. The Giant Panda’s habitat is within the bamboo forests of China, their current distribution is shown in figure 3.
Recent data derived from the Fourth National Survey 2011-2014 (State Forestry Administration, 2015), show that the population has stabilised. The rise of available habitat has supported Panda numbers and the population is increasing. While the IUCN’s decision to ‘down-list’ the Giant Panda to vulnerable is a positive sign, it is critically important that protective measures continue. The Giant Panda’s vulnerability categories over time are shown in figure 4.
Pandas play a critical role in China’s bamboo forests by spreading seeds and aiding vegetation growth. Therefore, conserving pandas will help to protect not only the forests but also the abundance of species that live within them. The forests are important for the livelihoods of local communities who use the resources for food, income and medicine. The latest census (2014) discovered there are approximately 1,864 wild giant pandas left (State Forestry Administration, 2015). Although, this number is still low, numbers have increased from 1,000 in the late 1970s. Conservation efforts are essential for endangered species whose survival cannot be guaranteed by conserving their habitat alone. WWF state that we should do everything possible to save the giant panda because we are the ones that have driven them to the edge of extinction. Pandas themselves are economically and culturally valuable. Being the national symbol of China, they generate significant economic benefits for local communities through ecotourism.
The primary cause of endangerment is habitat disruption (Kontoleon and Swanson, 2003). The species’ range is highly fragmented, resulting from centuries of human invasion and habitat loss. Although, a great effort is being made into constructing corridors to reconnect populations (Wang et al., 2014; Wei et al., 2015). The low genetic diversity levels increases their vulnerability to local extinctions (Swaisgood et al, 2016).
Climate Change
The danger of declining bamboo availability due to climate change could reverse all progress made. The population is currently increasing however, climate change is estimated to eliminate 35% of the Panda’s habitat within the next 80 years (Fan et al., 2012; Songer et al., 2012; Tuanmu et al., 2013; Li et al., 2015).
The Chinese government has carried out four national surveys, approximately every 10 years since 1974. There was an estimated 50% drop in numbers between 1974-1988, which pushed for the implementation of the 1988 Wildlife Protection Act; banning poaching. China’s National Conservation Project for the Giant Panda and its Habitat established a reserve system (Reid and Gong, 1999). Shortly after, there was an increase in Panda numbers; indicating that these protective measures were successful. The fourth survey showed that Pandas have been exploring areas outside their known range. The Chinese government is committed to conserving the species and its habitat and have increased the number of reserves. Populations recovered well once bans on poaching and habitat restoration efforts commenced (Wei et al.2014). WWF and the Chinese government’s National Conservation Program for the giant panda and its habitat, have been a partnership for many decades. Thanks to this program, reserves now cover 3.8 million acres of forest. The Chinese government plans to expand existing conservation policies (State Forestry Administration 2015).
The Giant Panda’s survival is living proof that conservation can work (WWF, 2018). With stakeholders at all levels working together in harmony striving on achieving the same goal, the Giant Panda’s population is beginning to stabilise and increase. From the Chinese Government, WWF and the public (donating and volunteering), all have contributed to the survival of the species. In the past decade, giant panda numbers have risen by approximately 17%. Although the species population is increasing they remain one of the most endangered bear species across the globe. The protected status of nature reserves does not always mean protection and many threatening activities continue. Threats associated with habitat fragmentation may be exacerbated by climate change in the future (Fan et al., 2012; Songer et al., 2012; Tuanmu et al., 2013; Li et al., 2015). Officials should be concerned about large-scale environmental changes facing Panda populations and should start initiating policies to protect the Giant Panda.


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