Chinese nature reserves have brought pandas back from the brink of extinction.
In the middle of the 20th century, China’s giant pandas were on the brink of extinction. With only a few hundred examples left, it seemed that deforestation and poaching would spell the end of these gentle giants.
However, the panda is not the sad story that befalls so many of Earth’s species. Instead of going extinct, a concerted effort from the Chinese government to save the panda has brought the species back from being considered endangered in the early 2000s to being merely “vulnerable” in 2016.
Authorities from China’s State Forestry and Grassland Administration currently estimate the wild panda population to be around 1,864 individuals. That’s up from 1,114 wild giant pandas in the 1970s.
Officials state that the reason for the boom in panda populations has less to do with captive breeding programs, which have only now begun to bear fruit, and instead are the fault of an increased number of nature reserves in China’s interior forests. China now has 67 protected areas where the penalties for injuring a panda can be quite severe.
Giant pandas are notoriously fickle breeders. Females are only receptive 2-3 days per year, and even if they conceive they typically only bear one or two young.
Breeding in captivity is extremely difficult for zookeepers as the male bears often don’t seem to know how to copulate with a female. Extreme measures, such as giving male pandas Viagra or providing them with “instructional videos” have met with little success. Artificial insemination is often the route taken by modern zoos.
Pandas seem to breed better in wild conditions, where the normally solitary creatures find each other via scene and calling. Currently, 66.8% of China’s wild panda population exist in nature reserves, which represents 53.8% of the total world population.
The species is still considered vulnerable, and any disruption to China’s 67 nature reserves would undoubtedly spell doom to the country’s wild population. However, if China is able to retain the protected status of these preserves, then the panda population is expected to grow to sustainable levels.