Survival risks remain for wild pandas despite population growth

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An official survey on Saturday reported that the population of pandas in the wild had increased and favorable environment measures had boosted habitat. However, it was not all good news as the lives of some 223 giant pandas were at risk.

A wild panda was photographed by infrared cameras in December, 2014, as she wandered around a nature reserve in Sichuan Province carrying her baby in her mouth. It was the first time such a scene has been seen in this area.

Risks in the wild

By the end of 2013 there were 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild, an increase of 268, or 16.8 percent, over a previous survey conducted in 2003, according to the State Forestry Administration (SFA).

Panda habitat expanded by 11.8 percent to 2.58 million hectares from 2003, the SFA said.

However, the survey also sounded an alarming note for protection of the highly endangered mammal.

The survey found that the survival of 223 wild giant pandas was deemed at high risk. They live in 24 isolated groups and account for 12 percent of the wild population.

As a result of geographic isolation and human intervention, there are only 33 isolated groups of giant pandas. Of those, 22 groups, with less than 30 individuals, were found to be "on the brink of extinction".

Those 18 groups with less than 10 individuals were "at extreme high risk of extinction".

The futures of another two isolated populations in south Minshan and the middle Daxiangling mountains is also in doubt due to the small size, low reproduction rate and the damage caused by the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.

"There are outstanding conflicts between the protection of the giant pandas and their habitats, and local socioeconomic development," said Chen Fengxue, deputy head of the SFA, at a press conference.

Habitat fragmentation is the major factor threatening the survival of giant pandas. The survey identified the construction of 319 hydropower plants, 1,339 km of roads, 268.7 km of high-voltage transmission lines, 984 residential areas, 479 mines and 25 tourist attractions as major disturbances to the animal's habitat.

Due to geographical and managerial inconsistencies, breeding center exchanges are failing to increase genetic diversity and resiliency of the animals.

In some areas, a lack of funding and under developed employee technical capacity has held back giant panda protection achievements, the survey found.

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