May 8, 2009

China’s Panda Population Still Reeling From Last Year’s Quake

The massive Sichuan earthquake in China last year has decelerated efforts to save the country's giant panda, which is regarded as China's national treasure.

The quake had massive implications for the panda population as it demolished a primary food source, inhibited its sex drive, and caused tourism profits to decrease.

"The biggest impact has been on the food source of the panda, as a lot of bamboo was destroyed," Wang Chengdong, the director of the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center, told AFP.

The food supply is very, very tight," Wang said. "The disaster has had a huge impact on our center and brought big difficulties too for our national treasure."

The massive 8.0-magnitude quake in Sichuan province last May resulted in almost 87,000 missing or dead people in the region.

The quake also occurred at the same time as a large effort to breed pandas in captivity. Now, the aftermath of the quake has caused resources to be stretched too thin, experts say.

Staff members at the Breeding Center, which is home to 83 pandas, are reporting difficulties with finding the necessary amount of food to ensure that pandas are receiving the proper amount of nourishment.

Meanwhile, wild pandas are scrambling to find the source of their next meal.

"The panda is a picky eater and is accustomed to eating bamboo from the same habitat, but now this is harder to find," Wang said.

A record 25 pandas were born among 50 breeding centers in 2007, and analysts say that trend was duplicated last year.

"Last year at our center we produced 18 pandas. This was our historical best," said Hou Rong, head of research at the Chengdu center.

He told AFP that the record numbers of new pandas were resulting in over-crowded conditions in breeding facilities.

China's profits from tourism, which the center at Chengdu relies on, are also declining. Tourism earnings were almost cut in half following last year's quake with visitors dropping from 600,000 in 2007 to 300,000 in 2008, Hou Rong said.

"We need to protect the panda and its habitat," Wang said.

"But this is still going to take a long time.

Meanwhile, in Chinese movie theaters, a new film debuted on Friday featuring a panda cub in the leading role.

The film, called "Trail of the Panda", documents how a panda cub, named Pang Pang, was discovered by a boy in Sichuan after losing his parents in a fire.

According to Xinhua news, "the film went into production in February 2008. The 28 crew members, including director Yu Zhong, were trapped in the mountains for four days after the earthquake shook Sichuan and neighboring provinces. They had been shooting the movie at the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in the Wolong nature reserve, not far from the epicenter Wenchuan."

"We hope that the film sends a message to audiences everywhere that there are still people who live there, and there are still pandas living there," said Jennifer Liu, producer and writer of the film.


On the Net: