Giant pandas may not be in as much danger of extinction
as feared with a new British-Chinese study finding there could be twice as many
living in the wild as previously thought, scientists said on Monday.
A giant panda walks
through the grasslands set for him to forage and play at a panda
conservation center in Chengdu, China, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006.
"This finding indicates that the species may have a significantly better
chance of long-term viability than recently anticipated, and that this beautiful
animal may have a brighter future," the scientists said in a statement.
Until now scientists thought there were about 1,590 giant pandas living in
reserves in the mountains of China. Pandas, one of the world's most endangered
and elusive animals, are dependent on bamboo found in that area.
But scientists from Britain's Cardiff University and the Chinese Academy of
Sciences now think there could be as many as 3,000 there after a survey using a
new method to profile DNA from panda feces revealed there was more than double
the number of estimated pandas in one reserve.
"This was surprising and exciting. In our opinion, the
same parameters can be applied across the whole mountain range," said Mike Bruford, professor
of biodiversity at Cardiff University's School of Biosciences.
Xiang Xiang, a panda bred in captivity, wanders out of a small cage
with metal bars into the wild as dozens of people smile and clap behind a
fence at Wolong, a traditional habitat for the endangered species, in
Southwest China's Sichuan Province on April 28, 2006. Xiang Xiang became
the first-ever human-raised giant panda to be released into the
Bruford said the scientists, whose findings will be published in journal
Current Biology on Tuesday, stumbled across this discrepancy in the population
as they were studying the movement of male and female pandas and their
territorial instincts to understand their behavior.
The study found about 66 pandas are living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve in
Sichuan Province -- and not 27 as estimated in the latest national survey that
was conducted in 2002.
Bruford said there was no way that panda births or migration could account
for so large a discrepancy and based on this finding, there may be 2,500 to
3,000 pandas in the wild.
Understanding population trends for giant pandas has been a major task for
conservation authorities in China for about 30 years with three national surveys
carried out but the terrain is hard to survey.
The first two surveys showed declines in numbers but the most recent survey
showed signs of a recovery, helped by the Chinese government setting up a
network of natural reserves and enforcing anti-poaching and anti-logging laws.
Bruford said the next step was to replicate the British/Chinese survey using
its DNA method in other reserves.
The challenge then is to think beyond keeping pandas in reserves and find
ways to end their isolation because inbreeding and low genetic diversity remain
a possible threat to the species' long-term survival, he added.
He said one way to do this would be to build corridors between the different
"This (finding) means we have a halfway reasonable
chance of long-term viability with conservation. It doesn't mean the panda is
out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination but it gives us more time and
makes a difference," Bruford told Reuters.