“Pandas are doing better, but we still have work to do”

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When trying to save an endangered species, conservationists more often than not do not get to have some kind of long-term population data to back their study. This often becomes problematic for scientists because data collected over a long period of time helps make better conservation policies and management. A new study, published recently in the journal Conservation Letters reports on habitat trends and future threats to the population of giant pandas. The study was based on 70,000 hours of research done by China’s State Forestry Administration in the panda range Sichuan. Ron Swaisgood, senior author of the study said, “A data set like this is a dream come true. We have new insights into the ecological processes behind the recent decision by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to downlist the panda from Endangered to Vulnerable. There is plenty of good news here for pandas, but we must also point out that these gains are being offset by some emerging new threats. The take-home message is that pandas are doing better, but we still have work to do.”

The study was first carried out from 1999 to 2003 and then from 2011 to 2014. It describes the condition of giant pandas in the forests of China. Researchers report that it is a cause for joy that giant pandas are now younger secondary forests more than they have in the past. It shows that these pandas, who used to find comfort in the more mature forests are happy with the protection and safety that these young forests provide and that conservationists are doing a good job. But there are some findings that still raise some concerns- human disturbance is seemingly increasing and so is the presence of livestock. It might lead to upward migration.

Many have appreciated the study for its thorough report and are saying that it can serve as a model for future species conservation related researches. “This study illustrates what species recovery can look like,” explained Megan Owen, director of Population Sustainability at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “The giant panda population is growing, and pandas are being found in higher numbers than anticipated, in recovering habitat. However, the nature and intensity of human activities in these areas is also changing, and continued protections and adaptive management will be necessary to ensure the positive trends are maintained into the future.” This proficient study was conducted with the help of scientists from China West Normal University, Sichuan Forestry Bureau, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and San Diego Zoo Global.

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