The future of one of nature’s most iconic animals – the giant panda – has received a major boost with the announcement of an enormous new preserve.
The conservation park will be two million hectares in size, the size of the entire European nation of Slovenia (or double the area of the famous Yellowstone National Park in the US). A huge portion of the funding is coming from the Bank of China, which has committed ten billion yuan for the project – equivalent to US$1.5 billion. The park is expected to be completed over the next five years and will provide a major conservation boost for the giant panda and an economic fillip for the province of Sichuan.
The sheer scale of it will not only help the endangered animals but also allow them a wider range for meeting mates, in the hope of deepening the genetic pool of the species. It will link 67 separate reserves into one giant conservation zone using passageways and tunnels to link habitats that are currently cut off from one another. The project is bound to be complex with 170,000 people living within the new conservation area but China is hopeful it can develop ecotourism around the preserve.
Giant pandas are immediately associated with China around the world. Estimates for the population in the wild range from 1500 to 3000 with the most recent large-scale study putting their number at 1864. More than 300 more live in zoos and wildlife parks around the world. Most of the wild panda bears live in the mountains of Sichuan with smaller populations in the neighbouring provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi. Unlike most bears, pandas are almost entirely herbivore and 99% of their diet is made up of bamboo shoots, of which they can eat at least 20lbs a day.