Giant pandas in the wild may face food
shortages as more bamboo plants, their staple food, approach the
end of their lifespan, Chinese naturalists warned.
Yang Xuyu, deputy head of the Wild Animal Preservation Station
of the Sichuan provincial forestry bureau in west China, issued the
warning on Sunday during the annual meeting of the China Giant
Panda Breeding Technical Committee. The meeting was held in
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.
Yang said that the station has observed 24,000 hectares of
bamboo flowering in Sichuan, where 1,206 pandas live in 40 nature
reserves with a total area of 1.77 million hectares, accounting for
77 percent of the total panda habitat in China.
During the blooming process, the bamboo plant grows flowers,
releases its seeds, dries out, and dies.
Bamboo blossoms have been spotted in 14 counties in Sichuan
since 2005. Nine varieties of bamboo have been observed flowering,
which accounts for 30 percent of bamboo eaten by the pandas, said
"No wild panda has been found dead of starvation. But as the
area of bamboo flowering spreads, we should keep close watch on the
severity of the pandas' food shortages," said Yang.
The mountainous region witnessed extensive blossoming of arrow
bamboo, the pandas' favorite variety, in 1984 and 1987, causing
hundreds of the endangered animals to die of starvation.
Yang said that in the past, pandas adapted to the natural
recurrence of dead bamboo, which happens about every 60 years.
However, in modern times, their migration paths among segmented
bamboo forests have been blocked by human activities. Thus, the
bamboo flowering has become a major threat to wild pandas.
He said the forestry bureau has carried out a panda rescue
drive, which involves sending preservation staff to local panda
habitats to provide guidance and supervision. The bureau has also
formed a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The two
organizations are drafting a plan to restore many of the pandas'
Over 80 officials and panda experts from eight countries
attended the meeting, which has been held annually since 1989, to
share their research on ways to preserve the panda population.
In total, pandas feed on approximately 20 different species of
bamboo. A research center for endangered animals in China's western
Shaanxi Province carried out tests aimed at helping pandas
diversify their taste in bamboo. Researchers collected 90 bamboo
species that are known to be edible and fed those types to six
captive pandas. The center said that the test results would be
useful for aiding populations on panda reserves.
(Xinhua News Agency November 12, 2007)