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article imageChina's latest survey finds wild giant pandas staging a comeback

By Megan Hamilton     Feb 28, 2015 in Environment
China's giant pandas are having a population boom, according to a survey conducted by the Chinese government. The survey, released Saturday states that their numbers in the wild have increased by nearly 17 percent during the last decade.
Conducted by China's State Administration of Forestry, the census found 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild by the end of 2013, and that's an increase of 268 animals since the last survey in 2003, The Telegraph reports.
Found only in China's Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces, giant pandas now cover an area of 2.5 million hectares, and that's an increase in range of nearly 12 percent since the 2003 survey.
China has set up 27 new preservation areas for these ancient bears, and that's contributing to the growth in their numbers, the administration said, per Phys.org. However, economic development remains an ever-present threat to this rare bear and its habitat. The survey found 319 hydropower stations and 1,339 kilometers ( 832 miles) of roads snake their way through the bear's habitat.
Fortunately, the Chinese government has implemented policy changes and that is what's helping giant panda populations to grow, The Telegraph reports.
The population increase "is a demonstration of the successful conservation actions taken by the government and the people of China," John Baker, head of India and China regions at the World Wildlife Fund-UK told The Telegraph. "Much of this success is due to the implementation of policy changes including banning commercial logging in panda habitats and more effective management of forest protected areas."
The census took three years to complete and reflects the country's commitment to protecting these beautiful bears. Nevertheless giant pandas still have at least two strikes against them, Time.com reports. Pandas are quite slow to reproduce and, sadly, are still a target for poachers.
Fortunately, however, poaching seems to be in decline, but there are other dangers brought about by modernization. There are 67 panda nature reserves in China, but 33 percent of the wild populations live outside the protected reserves, and for these bears, their habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented and sometimes isolation is imposed by physical barriers.
Alongside the hydropower plants, there are also 170 miles of high-voltage electrical cables and 25 tourist sites.
Survival of 223 of these wild bears is deemed high risk, the survey reports.
"There are still outstanding conflicts between the protection of the giant pandas and their habitats and the local socioeconomic development," Chen Fengxue, deputy head of the forestry bureau said, according to Xinhua, per The Telegraph. "It can be concluded that the protection of giant pandas is still quite an arduous task."
Xiao Liwu  a 5-month-old giant panda at the San Diego Zoo.
Xiao Liwu, a 5-month-old giant panda at the San Diego Zoo.
San Diego Zoo/Tumblr
Fortunately, China isn't fooling around when it comes to protecting these charming bears. The survey is the fourth in a series done every decade and it took 2,000 people 33 months to complete it. The country is also focusing efforts on encouraging its captive giant panda population to breed. At the end of 2013, there were 375 captive giant pandas, and that's more than double the 164 counted in the 2003 survey.
The country has also found that the bears make good bargaining chips and has bolstered foreign relations with other countries in a process known as panda diplomacy, which goes all the way back to the Tang dynasty when pandas were sent to Japan by the Empress Wu Zetian (624-705). In 1972, during a visit by US president Nixon, a pair of pandas were given to the US and that warmed up the otherwise frigid diplomatic relations between the two countries. There are currently 42 pandas and cubs on loan to 12 countries, The Telegraph reports.
Living in China's highest and most remote mountains, giant pandas love their bamboo. In these cool and wet forests, a typical panda eats fully half the day — some 12 out of every 24 hours, and this means the bear has to relieve itself quite frequently, National Geographic reports. Typically, a giant panda has to eat 28 pounds (12.5 kg) of bamboo each day, and it strips the stalks with specialized wrist bones that function like thumbs. Every now and then pandas will also eat birds and rodents — perhaps to gain a bit of additional protein.
Pandas may appear sedentary, but they are excellent tree-climbers and good swimmers as well.
This photo taken at Taipei City Zoo shows staff stimulating their newly born panda cub after she was...
This photo taken at Taipei City Zoo shows staff stimulating their newly born panda cub after she was successfully delivered by parents who were gifted from China
© AFP / JOHN MACDOUGALL
They maintain a solitary lifestyle, but have a highly developed sense of smell. Males use this to avoid each other and to find females during the spring mating season. Pregnancy lasts five months and females give birth to one or two cubs, but can't really take care of two babies, National Geographic reports. At birth, the blind infants weigh only five ounces (142 grams) and can't crawl until they are three months old. Cubs are born white and develop their adorable coloring later.
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