MOSCOW, September 26 (Itar-Tass) – RIA Novosti . Large pandas, recently transferred from the category of endangered species to the Red List of vulnerable species, are still in a critical state due to habitat fragmentation, environmentalists state in an article published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
“The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently transferred pandas to vulnerable species, a decision that was made because the number of pandas began to grow and increased significantly in recent years, which is certainly very good.” We tried to figure out how the areas of pandas have changed over the past four decades, as the habitat is also one of the main factors in the extinction of animals, “said Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, USA.
A living symbol of ecology
Large pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are the only representatives of the bear family that feed exclusively on plant foods. As a rule, a day for the survival of a panda you need to eat about 30 kilograms of bamboo, which forces it to eat almost around the clock.
Pandas grow extremely slowly and multiply very rarely, leading to a sharp decline in the number of these animals in the last half century, and the introduction of truly draconian measures for the killing or illegal capture of “bamboo bears” in the late 1980s. Under the laws of the PRC, killing a panda is punishable by death or life imprisonment, and similar punishments are provided for the trade in pandas.
Moreover, until recently, the PRC authorities in fact completely banned environmentalists and other scientists from monitoring the life of pandas using GPS beacons and other tracking systems, fearing that these data could be used by poachers for their own purposes. These measures, as IUCN representatives said last year, have helped to reduce poaching to a minimum and stop the decline in the number of pandas.
Poaching, as stressed by Pimm and his colleagues, is not the only problem for pandas – their killing and catch affect the lives of these bears mainly in the short term. According to the ecologist, the disappearance and fragmentation of forests where they live today can lead to the complete extinction of these animals, even if no animal is killed by human hands.
Guided by this idea, scientists analyzed archival data and satellite imagery and tried to study how the area and configuration of bamboo forests in Sichuan Province, where most of the bamboo bears live, over the past four decades changed.
In general, the area of their “patrimony” has not changed much during this time – it declined in 2011 by only 4% compared with 1976, when the Chinese authorities began to monitor the life of pandas. On the other hand, the area of individual bamboo forests isolated from other parts of the forest has fallen significantly during this time – on average, it has decreased by approximately 23-24%, which is an extremely negative factor for the life of pandas in the long run.
Why did this happen? The main reason for the fragmentation of bamboo forests is economic growth and an increase in the population of China. According to observations by environmentalists, over the past 20-25 years, authorities of the PRC and private companies have built many new roads and other infrastructure facilities that have broken many of the forests where pandas live, and actually isolated them from each other, dividing into 30 separate groups of animals.
As noted by Pimm, his team managed to count about two dozen extremely small populations of pandas that number less than ten individuals, which is an extremely dangerous situation for their survival and maintenance of genetic diversity in subsequent generations.
Therefore, scientists advise the Chinese authorities not only to encourage the migration of farmers from areas adjacent to panda forests, but also to create conditions for animals to move freely between forests and connect with groups of other bears, and to establish clear boundaries of forests that prohibit any form of human activity.