In 1984, the giant panda was listed as one of the endangered species on the planet. But less than a decade later, these beloved creatures were brought back from the brink of extinction, thanks to Chinese conservation efforts. In 2016, due to these continuous intense efforts, pandas were officially listed as “vulnerable,” which is a step safer from “endangered.”
So how were they able to do it?
1. Habitat Protection
Giant pandas first became endangered due to excessive poaching and deforestation in the ’80s, which resulted in the depletion of the panda’s main food source, bamboo. Farmland expansion also caused the fragmentation of the panda’s habitats in the wild, forcing the species to locations with little to no food.
Thus, the first and the most ideal solution to protect their species was to protect the habitat and create new reserves since not all pandas can survive in captivity. The Chinese government set 13 panda nature reserve areas, and this was accomplished in a way that didn’t compromise China’s economic livelihood. Through the years, trees and bamboo flourished that the pandas were able to return safely to their habitat.
Farming practices around the forests have been either reduced or separated from the reserve areas. According to government research, in 2015, the habitat for giant pandas grew by about 2,720 sq. km compared to in 2003, when 25,770 sq. km was reserved for panda habitat.
Although these pandas are left in the wild, the conservation staff live and work nearby to rescue sick and starving pandas and even stop smugglers from hunting them down.
2. Captive Breeding
Even before they were declared “endangered,” much of the bamboo in the giant panda’s main habitat area died, leaving the population of the pandas to starve until they were eventually rescued by the Chengdu Zoo.
In 1987, the Chengdu Panda Center was established to focus on giant panda research in line with China’s efforts to save the species. Panda research, which focused mainly on ways for them to multiply, helped with the species’ breeding and educate people about protecting them. Due to their dedication and hard work, the original six starving giant pandas that they saved eventually bred and grew in numbers.
3. Laws and Penalties to Protect Pandas
As it’s considered to be the “national treasure” of China, the Chinese government chose to reinforce the protection and care of the cuddly creatures through their constitution. A set of laws such as the Forest Law (1984), the Law on the Protection of Wildlife (1988), and the Environmental Protection Law (1989), were passed to help preserve and protect the creatures.
These laws also included severe penalties, offering proper and constant protection for the pandas that were being hunted down and smuggled. Because of this, pandas have become one of the “first-class protected species,” according to China’s Wild Animal Protection Law.
Love pandas? Check out this article on fun facts about pandas here.