Panda safety main concern of rangers

By Wang Ru (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-11 07:46

WENXIAN, Gansu: Fan Wen'an, head of the committee of Baishuijiang Biosphere National Reserve, looks up at the gathering dark clouds above Minshan Mountain and predicts more rain.

"It is definitely going to rain tonight," he said, lighting another cigarette in the gusting wind.

The national reserve is located in the south of Wenxian county, Gansu province, and was severely hit by the earthquake.

Founded in 1978, the 22,3671-hectare reserve is a habitat for rare wildlife including about 102 giant pandas.

"Landslides pose the greatest danger to the pandas. Falling rocks could hurt or kill them, and rain only worsens the situation.

"Whether some pandas have been injured or killed, we will only know after conducting a full-scale investigation," Fan said.

He said the earthquake may have affected the long-term safety of the reserve.

The earthquake destroyed 90 percent of the houses in Wenxian especially in the villages scattered in the mountains of Baishuijiang Biosphere National Reserve.

"I am afraid the desperate villagers may ask nature to pay back their loss," Fan said.

"Some old harmful activities such as cutting trees, hunting and herding their cattle in the forests may restart."

There are seven conservation stations in the Baishuijiang reserve. Fan said they recently resumed work at the reserve.

"But I really don't want to risk the life of the rangers because aftershocks are still happening everyday in Wenxian," he said.

On Monday morning, an inspection team left Baimahe conservation station and headed to the mountains, some as high as 2,500 m, where the pandas live.

In a bamboo grove, Zhang Hua, carefully searches for something on a muddy mountain path.

Eventually, he finds what he is looking for - panda scat.

"Panda's do not digest fibers contained in bamboo shoots, so we can estimate by the shape of the scat, the condition of the panda," Zhang said.

"We normally go into the mountain 10 days a month, following the tracks of pandas," Zhang said.

He measures the scat with a tape and makes a record.

One of his teammates is armed with a GPS to record the location.

Four weeks ago when the deadly earthquake struck, the 36-year-old inspector and his mates were doing the same thing in the Minshan Mountain.

"The whole mountain started to shake, it sounded like heavy trucks climbing up a steep slope," Zhang said.

"Rocks were rolling down, crushing trees."

He said villagers reported on May 9 seeing two pandas in the Minshan Mountain.

"Pandas usually live alone, but from March to May is their estrus period," Zhang said.

He was not sure if the quake would affect their mating habits. "We will watch them closely to see if it has had an effect."

Wang Gensheng, 46, who has worked at the Baimahe station for 10 years, is clearing a tree from a blocked path.

In 1992, a panda attacked him and left scars on his leg. "It is rare to witness wild pandas, since they are very sensitive animals.

"The pandas must have been very frightened when the earthquake struck. As long as the path to the mountain top is clear, we will try to search and help them."

The leader of the team, Li Fuyi, the vice-director of Baishuijiang reserve, seldom has time to return to his temporary home - a small tent in Wenxian.

His home was damaged in the quake and is not safe.

He had just returned from a visit to the farthest station - Bikou town, the worst-hit area in Gansu.

"I delivered some food and clothing to the local villagers, that's also part of our job," Li said.

He said three days after the quake all conservation stations began to visit the villagers and offer them food and clothing.

"In recent years, villagers have gradually begun to understand the importance of protecting pandas and nature, and we should help them," Li said.

Relief supplies have also been sent by the Beijing Giant Panda Conservation Center, and funds from Hong Kong Oxfam to the Baishuijiang National Reserve.

"Hopefully in the future when people are rebuilding their homes, they will think of the home of the pandas too," Li said.

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours