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Road construction segregates giant pandas' habitats in Gansu
By Guo Nei (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-05 05:30

The more than 100 wild giant pandas in Northwest China's Gansu Province are now stepping onto the verge of extinction because of a decline in their ability to reproduce, according to Xinhua reports.

Researchers from the Gansu Baishuijiang Giant Panda Nature Reserve said the giant pandas in the province now live in five separate habitats, making mating among the groups almost impossible.

According to basic principles of genetics and the pandas' reproduction habits, a group of less than 50 giant pandas are predicted to become extinct at some point as a result of a weakening reproductive ability caused by inbreeding.

Wang Hao, a giant panda expert of Peking University, said the fragmentation of wild pandas' habitats had become the biggest threat to the survival of the species.

Wang said that the construction of highways is cutting large panda habitats into smaller and smaller ones, increasing the risk of degeneration of the species.

Wang advised the authorities to build forest corridors to link the separated giant panda habitats, in order to promote reproduction across the groups.

Traffic control was also proposed for those highways that have already been built, so that the giant pandas are able to cross roads more easily to gain access to other habitats.

According to research carried out by the State Forestry Administration in June 2004, China had 1,490 giant pandas living in the wild. The number excludes young pandas under 18 months old and the 161 pandas bred in captivity.

The animals have long been known to have a low reproductivity rate, a genetic problem that has troubled scientists trying to save the endangered species from extinction.

Since the 1990s, China has strengthened efforts to protect the invaluable species by establishing nature reserves.

More than 90 per cent of wild giant pandas now live in 60 nature reserves, according to the administration.

Song Huigang, an expert from the China Wildlife Conservation Association, said a lack of funds was a major problem for the protection of the species.

Song said donations from the general public are inadequate in spite of increased awareness of wild life protection.

Song estimated that the annual cost to protect one wild panda exceeds 5 million yuan (US$617,000).

Wild pandas are a species unique to China and they live mainly in the western provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu.

(China Daily 12/05/2005 page2)

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