The densely wooded mountain ranges of China’s Sichuan province are dotted with cherry trees and edged with small fields of rape around tiny villages. But this isn’t naturally human territory; this is the home of the giant panda.
According to the UN, there are just 800 giant pandas remaining in the wild and some 100 in captivity, although the Chinese State Forestry Bureau reports slightly healthier figures of 1,600 in the wild and a further 300 in captivity. The exact numbers, however, are semantics – it isn’t a great time to be a panda. The dynamics are changing; roads and small farms constantly encroach on the mountainous region that they’ve called home for a millennium.
To make matters worse, that home lies on the Longmenshan Fault, which caused both the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 and the Lushan quake in April this year. And if that wasn’t enough to contend with, a report published last year in Nature Climate
A recent report claims that global warming is set to wipe out much of the bamboo on which the bears rely
Change claimed that global warming is set to wipe out much of the bamboo on which the bears rely for food.
Scientists from Michigan State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences forecasted the effect that climate change would have on the most common species of bamboo in the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province in northwestern China, which are home to about 275 wild pandas, about 17 per cent of the remaining wild population. Using projections based on rainfall data, greenhouse gas emissions and historical growth patterns, they found that three species of bamboo, which make up virtually all of the Qinling pandas’ diets, will all but disappear as the climate warms.
Although other areas will probably become climatically more suitable for bamboo growth, they will be far removed from panda habitat. And many areas where pandas might have had access to bamboo are now unavailable due to human development.
So if you want to see pandas – and frankly, who doesn’t? – then you need to take the tourist route and head for one of China’s panda reserves. Indeed, in the future, this could be the only way to see a panda.
tourist drawcard The best-known reserve lies on the outskirts of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, and a mere 116 kilometres from the
52 | July 2013