GIANT PANDA — THE VULNERABLE SPECIES
Scientific Name : Ailuropoda melanoleuca
English common names : Giant Panda, Panda bear, Parti-colored bear
Genus : Ailuropoda
Species : melanoleuca
The Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a bear with big, black spots around the ears, eyes, and throughout the body that distinguishes it from other bears. The rest of a panda’s body is made up of white fur. Despite the fact that pandas are carnivores, bamboo is a major part of their diet.
Pandas, unlike other animals, do not dwell in a continuous vast land, preferring instead to live in isolated patches of land suited for their survival. Pandas have shown an incapacity to suit up in the face of bamboo forests that humans removed to make human progress. Pandas are restricted to a 3-mile radius where they can roam in search of food. Pandas require access to streams for water, and the climate they prefer is generally damp with cool summers, Monsoon from June to October, Snow typical in winter.
They exhibit sexual dimorphism where males are larger than females, i.e., males are 18% heavier than females even though dimorphism is much less pronounced than other bears.
Distribution & Habitat
The Giant Pandas are distributed in a restricted range. They are only found in 6 small areas of the Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces of Southwest China. Old-growth montane forests with dense bamboo stands are the primary habitat for pandas. The habitat of pandas declined by half between 1974 and 1985. The human presence is responsible for a 92 per cent reduction in the distribution to ancestral giant panda habitat.
Behaviour and Ecology
Pandas are inactive for an extended period. They may spend 41% of the day resting, i.e. almost 9.8 hours. Most rest periods last 2–4 hours. Activity peaks at dawn and dusk (crepuscular), and some activity occurs throughout all times of the day and night, accounting for 59% of the daytime hours, c. 14.2 hours. Activity increases in June and November, though levels are also associated with variation in weather. Unlike other bears, pandas do not hibernate. Constant access to food makes the dormant period unnecessary. Bamboo is a poor nutrient source; therefore, pandas can’t eat enough to gain fat deposits needed for hibernation. Pandas usually avoid travelling up steep slopes and communicate with scent rather than confrontation. They do not defend territorial boundaries and remain within small ranges.
After mating, female giant pandas give birth 90 to 180 days later. Although females can have two children, only one generally lives. Giant panda cubs can spend up to three years with their moms before venturing out on their own. This means that a wild female can only have children every other year at most. Furthermore, the cubs of giant pandas are 900 times smaller than their moms. At birth, they barely weigh approximately 100 grammes. Giant panda infants, except opossums and kangaroos, are the tiniest mammal babies compared to their mothers’ size.
Panda as flagship species
Flagship species are those chosen to represent a habitat, campaign, or environmental cause as an ambassador, icon, or symbol. The giant Panda is a global symbol of wildlife conservation, and its black and white fur and adorable look attract people from all over the world. The Giant Panda is considered a ‘flagship’ species by the WWF, meaning it is a charismatic representation of the ecologically diverse temperate forest it lives in. Many other species and water supplies that are critical for the future of hundreds of millions of humans will benefit from the conservation of the Giant Panda and its habitat.
Giant Panda as an umbrella species
The Giant Panda is considered an umbrella species by environmentalists. This conservation approach focuses on preserving one species’ habitat to conserve the habitats of many other species in the same ecosystem. The Giant Panda’s habitat overlaps with that of several other endemic species in China. The geographical range of the Giant Panda coincides with 70% of forest bird species, 70% of forest mammals, and 31% of forest amphibian species that are exclusively found in mainland China.
Why is it important to conserve pandas?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Giant Panda is no longer designated an endangered species (IUCN). Instead, they are now classified as “vulnerable because of their slow population increase.”
Dedication to preserving nature reserves and other conservation activities in recent years resulted in the existence of 1,800 giant pandas in the wild. According to the outlet, other species have benefited as a consequence: Siberian tigers, Asian elephants, and crested ibises have witnessed modest increases in population numbers.
The Giant Panda has been classified as “vulnerable” internationally for the past five years. Giant pandas were removed from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s endangered species list in 2016, a decision that Chinese officials opposed at the time. Because according to them, lowering their protection status can result in neglect or relaxation of the conservation activities. As a result, populations and habitats of giant pandas might still suffer permanent loss, and all successes would be soon lost.
Just one level downgrading category doesn’t mean we can stop protecting Giant pandas. It is essential to continue the same efforts that we have already taken to conserve the pandas. There are now 1,800 Giant Pandas living in the wild. By continuing the conservation efforts, we can increase the number of these species and can again downgrade their levels too much lower.