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Conservation efforts in China to protect giant pandas have failed to help large carnivores

Conservation efforts in China put in place to protect the giant panda may have triggered a decline in the numbers of leopards, snow leopards and wolves.

Experts from China found that these carnivores — as well as the dhole, the Asian wild dog — have almost disappeared from the protected areas set aside for the panda.

Accordingly, the researchers have argued for a broader conservation strategy to be implemented in the region to protect biodiversity as a wider whole.

Conservation efforts in China put in place to protect the giant panda, pictured, may have triggered a decline in the numbers of leopards, snow leopards and wolves (stock image)

Conservation efforts in China put in place to protect the giant panda, pictured, may have triggered a decline in the numbers of leopards, snow leopards and wolves (stock image)

Researchers found that four large carnivores have almost disappeared from the protected areas set aside for the panda. Pictured, where each of the carnivores (leopard, top left, snow leopard, top right, wolf, bottom left and dhole, bottom right) still exist in (in black) and have disappeared from (in grey) the five mountain ranges across which the giant panda live

Researchers found that four large carnivores have almost disappeared from the protected areas set aside for the panda. Pictured, where each of the carnivores (leopard, top left, snow leopard, top right, wolf, bottom left and dhole, bottom right) still exist in (in black) and have disappeared from (in grey) the five mountain ranges across which the giant panda live

‘Since the establishment of the first giant panda reserve in the early 1960s, the Chinese government […] has invested enormously in giant panda conservation,’ the researchers wrote in their paper. 

‘As a direct result of these efforts, the status of giant pandas on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List changed from Endangered to Vulnerable in 2016.’ 

However, they added, ‘the present findings indicate the insufficiency of giant panda conservation for protecting […] large carnivore species.’

In their study, biologist Sheng Li of Peking University and colleagues examined 73 of China’s wildlife protection areas, 66 of which were giant panda nature reserves.

They determined whether of not the four large carnivores — dholes, leopards, snow leopards and wolves — were present or absent in each area using camera-trap surveys undertaken between 2008 and 2018.

This contemporary field data was compared with historical baseline survey data gathered in 58 of the protected areas shortly following their establishment.

The researchers found that, in the 50–60 years since the panda reserves were first created, all four species have been lost from a substantial proportion of the areas.

Specifically, dholes have vanished from 95 per cent of all reserves, leopards from 81 per cent, wolves from 77 per cent and snow leopards from 38 per cent.

Accordingly, the researchers have argued for a broader conservation strategy to be implemented in the region to protect biodiversity as a wider whole. Pictured, a snow leopard, whose numbers have fallen by around 38 per cent across the various Chinese protected reserves in the last 50¿60 years (stock image)

Accordingly, the researchers have argued for a broader conservation strategy to be implemented in the region to protect biodiversity as a wider whole. Pictured, a snow leopard, whose numbers have fallen by around 38 per cent across the various Chinese protected reserves in the last 50–60 years (stock image)

Dholes ¿ the Asian wild dog, pictured ¿ have vanished from 95 per cent of all reserves, while wolves have disappeared from 77 per cent and snow leopards from 38 per cent (stock image)

Dholes — the Asian wild dog, pictured — have vanished from 95 per cent of all reserves, while wolves have disappeared from 77 per cent and snow leopards from 38 per cent (stock image)

According to the researchers, these losses have been triggered by factors including disease, logging and poaching.

‘Future conservation efforts should target restoring ecosystems with high trophic [food web] complexity to facilitate the recovery of large carnivore populations,’ Sheng Li and colleagues concluded.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

In their study, biologist Sheng Li of Peking University and colleagues examined 73 of China's wildlife protection areas, pictured, 66 of which were giant panda nature reserves

In their study, biologist Sheng Li of Peking University and colleagues examined 73 of China’s wildlife protection areas, pictured, 66 of which were giant panda nature reserves

THE IUCN RED LIST

Species on the endangered red list are animals of the highest conservation priority that need ‘urgent action’ to save.

An Amber list is reserved for the next most critical group, followed by a green list.

Red list criteria:

  • Globally threatened
  • Historical population decline in UK during 1800–1995
  • Severe (at least 50 per cent) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years
  • Severe (at least 50 per cent) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years  

Last year, in the UK, several more species were added to the list. 

These included:  

  • Atlantic puffin
  • Nightingale 
  • Long-tailed duck 
  • Turtle dove

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