The Giant panda has been the World Wildlife fund’s logo since its creation in 1961. Currently there are 1,864 pandas roaming in the wild and despite it being the face of the WWF for 56 years, it is still at risk from extinction. The black and white bear is adored round the world and is a national treasure in China. It grows to up to 330 pounds and they live off entirely bamboo, eating between 50 and 80 pounds every day. There are two subspecies of panda, the nominate subspecies and the Qinling panda.
The nominate sub species is the normal looking panda and is mainly located in the Sichuan area. The Qinling is found in the Qinling Mountains at an elevation of between 1300 and 3000 metres. They are brown and white in colour and are not so plentiful in numbers. The reason why the species is endangered is as a result of their disappearing natural habitat, which is the bamboo forests of the Yangtze basin in China. This area is also the economic heartland of millions of people and the area has become increasingly fragmented. This has made pandas increasingly isolated and has affected their mating patterns.
Traditionally the bear had been hunted for its fur but increasing public awareness of the species plight has virtually halted the hunting, but there is occasion when pandas are lost as a result of hunters pursuing other animals. There are now 50 panda reserves in China bout only 61% of all pandas reside in those areas. The area of protected land now covers 3.8 million hectares and aims to produce corridors so that isolated pandas can meet and mate. Recent statistics have shown that the numbers in the wild are on the rise with some people estimating that figures in the wild could be as high as 3000.
Pandas are really popular in the world’s biggest zoos and whenever there is a new birth the event will often be accompanied by major international media coverage. The reason for this has been as well as the species being popular they are extremely difficult to breed in captivity.
Historically zoos have used artificial insemination to produce new birth as it appeared that the bear in captivity lost its interest in mating. Some strange techniques have been used such as showing male pandas videos of other pandas mating and even giving them Viagra. Now there appears to be more success with captive breeding programs. Every other birth pandas produce twins. In the wild only one of the new born will survive as the mother will pick the stronger one to take care of, as the panda can only produce a little milk to feed her babies.
In 2017 a record number of 42 pandas have been born at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda. There are two stations, both in Sichuan Province and they have used a variety of tactics that have resulted in this successful breeding season. They have offered the female pandas a variety of males to choose from for breeding purpose. They have also been given an enriched diet. If twins are born the keepers have used a “sharing custody” policy where they regularly swap the babies, taking care of the other baby themselves. The centre has even started to release the pandas back into the wild.
Survival rates of the babies born in captivity have risen from 30% to 90%. The increasing success of the various programs plus the widening of the protected areas have combined to produce a healthier outlook regarding panda numbers. However, these initiatives will need to be continued if this iconic animal is to survive.