Washington, Jan 30 (ANI): Experts have said that hasty rebuilding in southwestern China, which was affected by a major earthquake in May 2008, poses new threats to the long-term viability of the wild pandas in the country.
China has already started mapping out a reconstruction plan for parts of Sichuan Province that were devastated by the earthquake.
But, according to a report in National Geographic News, hasty post-quake rebuilding in southwestern China could ultimately accelerate the fragmentation of the fragile panda's largest remaining natural habitat.
"The earthquake and the human response to the earthquake are actually posing new threats to the long-term viability of the wild pandas," said Marc Brody, founder of the conservation group Panda Mountain-U.S.-China Environmental Fund.
Hit in succession by seismic shocks and rock slides, China's largest swath of protected wild panda habitat-the 2.3 million-acre Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, incurred significant damage, according to Giovanni Boccardi, who heads the Asia-Pacific section of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre in Paris.
The Sanctuaries, a collection of seven reserves and nine parks, host at least 25 percent of the Earth's remaining 2,000 captive and wild pandas.
The earthquake, Boccardi explained, set off avalanches that buried some of the bamboo forests that sheltered the wild pandas of Sichuan.
The other 75 percent of the Earth's pandas populate areas of Sichuan outside the Sanctuaries, as well as parts of Shanxi and Gansu provinces, which also suffered during the massive quake.
An influx of up to five million quake refugees searching for new homes will also impact the pandas.
The Chinese government's master plan for reconstruction will attempt to relocate the homeless, but some scientists say that hasty resettlement could be disruptive to the pandas.
As China's population grows and people relocate, pandas face a multitude of challenges, including habitat loss and fragmentation.
According to Brody and other experts, the habitat in Sichuan was already carved up before the quake hit.
Panda-friendly bamboo forests in the province are spread over 159 townships in 33 counties, all with separate government administrators who often have competing interests.
Much to its detriment, the giant panda has an insatiable appetite for bamboo. A panda, on average, consumes about 28 pounds of bamboo a day.
Now, new construction could intensify the fragmentation threatening the forests.
"There is a new post-quake highway that for the first time is bisecting the center of the Giant Panda Sanctuaries," said Brody, describing the influx of quake-response traffic and the migration of refugees.
Because the pandas' gene pool is already so limited, splitting up the remaining groups into more fragmented habitats could endanger their collective survival, explained Brody. (ANI)