London: The situation of China's giant
pandas has reached crisis point after the massive earthquake
in the south-west province of Sichuan in May last year, a
study has suggested.
More than 60 percent of the wild giant panda
population was hit by the May 2008 disaster, which killed
70,000 people and wiped out most of the bears' forest habitat,
according to the Chinese Academy Of Sciences.
"It is probable that habitat fragmentation has
separated the giant panda population inhabiting this region,
which could be as low as 35 individuals," said Weihua Xu, the
lead author of the study published in Frontiers in Ecology and
"This kind of isolation increases their risk of
extinction in the wild, due in part to a higher likelihood of
inbreeding," he underlined.
Sichuan province, which contains more than half of the
the world's wild giant panda population, has been designated
as one of 25 global biodiversity conservation hotspots.
Pandas are now more vulnerable than ever to human
disturbance, including post-earthquake reconstruction and
tourism, according to the Chinese scientists. Extra isolation
caused by fragmentation of their habitat increases their risk
of extinction in the wild.
About 80 percent of the habitat of pandas', which has
already been pushed to the brink of extinction by poaching and
man's destruction of their natural environment, was affected
by the Sichuan earthquake, a newspaper reported today.
There are around 1,600 giant pandas remaining in the
wild, now confined to forest areas high in the mountains.
Their low population levels are not helped by their fragmented
habitat and infrequent breeding, according to the report in
the British tabloid.
The panda's forest habitat has shrunk and become
fragmented over the years due to commercial logging,
agriculture and use of forest products for food and fuel. This
has been compounded by infrastructure development for China's
growing human population.
Poaching giant pandas carries a severe penalty in the
Communist nation, but it has hardly deterred hunters who
litter the mountains for the animal's prized skins.
First Published: Monday, July 27, 2009, 18:18