The Panda bears are in danger of extinction Because its natural habitat has been largely destroyed by humans for housing construction and recreation and tourism. To this is added poaching and that the reproductive cycle of pandas is slow and complicated.
The bamboo plant is the main source of food for pandas. A few years ago, bamboo forests were continuous and uninterrupted strips where pandas could migrate from place to place, find food and breed.
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Thanks to accelerated urbanization, bamboo forests have lost continuity and are now localized in small patches fragmented throughout China. This prevents the pandas from migrating from one place to another in search of food once the bamboo is scarce where it is found (Smith, 2016).
Similarly, the fragmentation of bamboo forests prevents groups of pandas from meeting and interacting with other groups of the same species, which affects the processes of genetic diversity that ensure the welfare of the species.
Other reasons that have contributed to the extinction of pandas are poaching, which has been heavily penalized by the Chinese government since 1990, and the speed of reproduction of pandas, which tends to be slow and complicated both in freedom and in captivity.
For more than twenty years, the Chinese government has made efforts to protect the pandas by creating protected areas and protected natural reserves. Similarly, international collaborative programs have been established with various zoos around the world to breed pandas and contribute to their preservation.
Distribution of the pandas population
Bamboo has a natural cycle of flowering and death that prevents the pandas from feeding on it. When this cycle coincides with the presence of the pandas, they must migrate to a different forest where the bamboo is fit to consume. Fragmentation of forests prevents this from happening, condemning the pandas to death.
An adult panda can spend up to 14 hours a day eating bamboo and, due to the poor nutritional content of this plant, a panda needs to consume, on average, between 10 and 20 kilos of bamboo per day (Baccega, 2016).
Although the digestive system of pandas is like that of any bear, its diet is 99% vegetarian and dependent on bamboo. The remaining 1% may include small rodents (a kind of small Chinese hare) or some other type of plants. Pandas may be carnivorous, however, they have evolved to depend on bamboo.
There are several species of bamboo with different cycles of flowering. Pandas can feed on any of these species, and before humans destroyed bamboo forests, pandas would migrate from one species to another, seeking one from which they could feed (Allen, 2011).
The dependence of the bamboo pandas makes them a vulnerable species, since they can not adapt to another habitat or to the intake of other foods. All this makes their survival easily threatened when their natural habitat is destroyed.
Pandas reach reproductive maturity between four and eight years. However, females can only be fertilized during two or three days of the year in the spring season.
In this short span of time, female pandas attract males with their scent, and male pandas should woo females with a call similar to that of goats or sheep.
The pregnancy of the females can last between 95 and 160 days. The females almost always have two young that are born blind, lack hair and are very small, weighing between 85 and 140 grams.
The survival of the offspring depends entirely on the mother during the three months following the birth and she can only take care of one, leaving the other to die (Map, 2017).
Reproduction of the pandas in captivity allows caregivers to take care of both offspring, however, the reproductive process is more complicated, since the pandas lose the desire to reproduce when they are out of their natural habitat. Some scientists and researchers have opted for extreme measures such as showing pandas videos of other pandas by mating.
Artificial insemination is so far the most effective method to ensure the gestation of a panda breeding.
Although this process is successful, it should be borne in mind that a female panda's reproductive cycle allows it to have a breeding every two years until it reaches the age of 20 years (Lü & Schaller, 2002).
Current status of the species
It is currently estimated that there are 2060 pandas in the world living in the wild. Pandas have been classified in a state of vulnerability and potential extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
This is due to the low reproductive frequency of the species and the difficulty in increasing the number of individuals in the world population (Swaisgood, Wang, & Wei, 2017).
The Chinese government has developed strategies to combat the potential extinction of pandas. Natural habitats have been regenerated with bamboo forests, and State Forestry Administration surveys yielded significant data in 2016, indicating that the pandemic population has increased since the government imposed the first conservation measures in 1992.
In the year 2016, it was established that the panda is no longer in serious danger of extinction, however, it is in a state of vulnerability.
For now, this is good news, although abrupt environmental changes are expected to once again affect the world's pandemic population, killing 35 percent of the species within the next 80 years (Eason, 2009).
Currently, various government institutions in China and other countries are conducting research on the reproductive process of pandas, striving to increase the population of the species and ensure their survival in the wild.
These investigations are largely financed by donors and volunteers working together for the preservation of the species.
- Allen, K. (2011). Giant Pandas in a Shrinking Forest: A Cause and Effect Investigation. Mankato: Capstone Press.
- Baccega, E. (2016). WWF Global. Obtained from What do Pandas Eat?: wwf.panda.org
- Eason, S. (2009). Save the Panda. New York: Power Kids.
- Lü, Z., & Schaller, G.B. (2002). Giant Pandas in the Wild: Saving an Endangered Species. Aperture: World Wildlife Fund.
- Map, C. T. (2017). China Tour Map. Obtained from Panda Reproduction: chinatourmap.com
- Smith, P. (September 6, 2016). Animal Fact Guide. Retrieved from the Giant Panda: animalfactguide.com.
- Swaisgood, R., Wang, D., & Wei, F. (February 28, 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Obtained from Ailuropoda melanoleuca: iucnredlist.org.