@Steve Bloom Images/Alamy Stock Photo
In 1961, GIANT PANDAS were threatened with extinction. When naturalist Sir Peter Scott founded the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that year, he chose the giant panda as its symbol. These distinctive, cuddly looking creatures went on to become a global icon, representing endangered animals everywhere.
The giant panda’s story can teach us a lot about saving other endangered species. First, a few furry panda bear facts…
Despite looking like a soft and huggable distant relative, pandas are actually members of the scary, hairy bear family! So how did they go from being carnivorous predators to cute, bamboo-munching vegetarians? Answer: ADAPTATION!
Pandas changed themselves to suit their environment. It’s full of green, fibrous plants called bamboo, which makes up 99% of their diet. Over the course of 2-3 million years, they kept their sharp canine teeth, but their molars became flat for crushing vegetation. They also evolved thumb-like appendages, enabling them to hold bamboo shoots. These black-and-white bears have an extremely low metabolism. This means they use very little energy. On average, they only travel 20 metres per hour!
@National Geographic Creative/Alamy Stock Photo
Pandas adapted brilliantly to their habitat – a cool, damp climate with a plentiful food supply. Take that away and they suffer.
People pushed out pandas. Pandas once lived in eastern China, Myanmar and Vietnam. Now they are confined to a patchy mountain habitat in China – just 1% of their original range.
• Roads and developments have cut through the landscape. They separated bear populations and destroyed natural pathways.
• Female pandas can only become pregnant on one particular day in the spring, so having a baby is a tricky business!
• Hunting and poaching also made a big impact on the species. A survey taken between 1974 and 1977 estimated that 2,459 pandas remained. Just 10 years later, only 1,114 pandas were left in China, and their numbers were falling fast… A survey taken between 1974 and 1977 estimated that 2,459 pandas remained. Just 10 years later, only 1,114 pandas were left in China, and their numbers were falling fast…
• NATURE RESERVES: In the early 1960s, the first four panda reserves were set up in China. Today, 67 panda reserves house two-thirds of the world’s panda population.
• CO-OPERATION: In 1979, the WWF signed an agreement with the Chinese government to join efforts in saving the giant panda.
• LAW: A set of laws was passed to protect the giant pandas and other rare animals from human harm. Hunting pandas became illegal, and poachers faced tough punishments. Yay!
• MONEY: In 2002, China gave £10 million to help save 15 flagship species, including the giant panda. (Flagship species mean they are super-important).
• ZOOS: Pandas were given to zoos all over the world for a high fee! It turned the pandas into celebrity tourist attractions! The money raised is used for preservation.
• SURVEYS, RESEARCH & STUDIES: Thanks to new technology pandas could be tracked in the wild. We now know more about pandas and how to save them.
• BREEDING SUCCESS: Scientists had found it extremely difficult to breed pandas in captivity. Half of male pandas are not interested in mating when they’re not in a green forest. After learning more about panda’s habits, more young cubs are now born in captivity.
• HABITAT PROTECTION: The WWF and China are doing all they can to improve panda habitats. This means saving the forest and helping local communities to use it sustainably. Bamboo corridors are built to link pockets of forest where the bears live. These are pathways to new areas for food and new mates.
The giant panda is now known as an ‘umbrella species’. By preserving its habitat, we are also helping to protect hundreds of other species living in the same area. In 2015, there were 1864 giant pandas in the wild – a small but important increase since the last survey.
This teaches us that it’s working together that matters most in conservation. Making people AWARE of endangered animals is the first step. The giant panda is now known as China’s National Treasure!
To celebrate such a great success story, we thought we'd share this brilliant video: a composure of funny panda videos!
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In our ‘Nature’s Music’ summer issue, we asked you to write a song or short story about a music-loving dolphin. Thank you to everyone who sent us their entries. We loved reading your stories, poems and songs.