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Sad News for Pandas

Sun, 26th Jul 2009

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Our listeners may remember the massive earthquake, measuring 8 on the Richter scale, that struck the Sichuan region of southern China in May 2008.  Not only did it leave tens of thousands of people dead and 4.3 million homeless, but a new study shows it also means bad news for the few remaining giant pandas living in the wild.

Panda Gao Gao in San Diego Zoo, USAThis is research from Weihua Xu in Beijing, whose results are published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this week.  The scientists carried out a survey of the habitat of giant pandas living in the South Minshan region, next the the epicentre of the earthquake, comparing it before and after the earthquake.

The researchers discovered that nearly a quarter of the panda habitat in this area had been destroyed, with much of the rest of it fragmented and damaged.  This kind of damage greatly increases the chances of pandas becoming extinct in the wild, by breaking up the population, and destroying prime breeding and feeding sites.  

Xu thinks that up to 60 per cent of the wild giant panda population may have been affected in some way by the earthquake.  And given that the entire wild panda population is only around a thousand animals, that's pretty bad.

The researchers think that one good idea might be to develop specially protected 'corridors', encouraging pandas to move between the remaining patches of habitat.  And because a lot of the earthquake damage happened in areas outside nature reserves, they suggest that these areas should be specially protected too.  And, of course, they ask that towns and cities are rebuilt in a way that takes the pandas into consideration.


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