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Hungry giant pandas to get new food source
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-28 06:09

LANZHOU: Nature reserve workers in Northwest China's Gansu Province are busy coming up with a plan to help feed giant pandas as they are suffering from a food shortage caused by arrow bamboo flowering.

Zhang Kerong, director of the Baishuijiang State Nature Reserve, said a new food source will be found to keep the pandas going.

Zhang said that arrow bamboo the pandas' favourite flowers then goes to seed just before it dies. Giant pandas do not eat bamboo once it blooms, and it takes 10 years for a new supply to grow. Bamboo blooming in the early 1980s caused the deaths of about 250 giant pandas.

Zhang said that 22 giant pandas living in the Bikou and Rangshuihe areas, where much of the bamboo is blooming, are facing the threat of starvation.

Workers in the reserve will move old and weak giant pandas and lure fit pandas to new habitats, Zhang said.

According to World Wide Fund for Nature, a giant panda may consume 12-18 kilograms of bamboo a day to meet its energy requirements. The habitat of giant pandas is in Gansu, Shaanxi provinces in Northwest China and Sichuan Province in Southwest China to the east of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Approximately 1,600 giant pandas live in the wild.

As of late last year, flowering bamboo covered more than 7,000 hectares of the nature reserve, and this area has continued to expand.

The nature reserve, occupying about 220,000 hectares, has 102 resident giant pandas living wild.

More than 1,500 giant pandas live in the wild across the country, according to a survey by the State Forestry Administration.

In Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces, two other giant panda habitats, arrow bamboo is also blooming.

The Baishuijiang reserve and the local government have spread the word about panda protection and asked locals not to harm the hungry animals if they roam around villages looking for food.

Zhang said the reserve will dispatch frequent patrols and rescue giant pandas in danger of starvation.

Early this year, panda protection in Baishuijiang State Nature Reserve was found to have helped the giant pandas increase their numbers.

The third survey conducted by the provincial forestry authority in February shows the population has increased by six in the last 12 years.

The rise is a result of increased investment in endangered animal protection in recent years.

The annual fund for panda protection has surpassed 6 million yuan (US$720,000).

Illegal activities like opening mineral mines, gold prospecting or logging in panda habitats have been curtailed, said the authority.

More than 26,670 hectares of farmland in the reserve have been turned back into forest, expanding the habitat of the pandas.

This, along with the planting of arrow bamboo in the area, has also improved breeding conditions, leading to the population increase.

But the reserve still faces many challenges. The survey found that 12 per cent of planted bamboo showed signs of blooming, rendering it inedible.

If the situation worsens, the pandas in that area will have to be transferred elsewhere.

Since the 1970s, many in the reserve have died because of food shortages.

In 1992, when the second survey was conducted, the number of pandas was shown to have decreased to 96 from more than 200.

In the past 10 years, a total of 9,820 hectares of bamboo crop failures have affected 22 pandas.

The Chinese Government has proclaimed more than 50 reserves for giant pandas.

Among them, 36 nature reserves are in Sichuan, while there are 13 panda nature reserves in Shannxi and one is in Gansu.

However, habitat destruction continues to pose a threat to the many pandas living outside these areas, and poaching is a further problem.

Today, only around 61 per cent of the population, or about 980 pandas, are under protection in reserves. It is more important than ever to ensure the giant panda's survival.

(China Daily 03/28/2005 page2)

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