March 5, 2024

Most panda sanctuaries are made up of high-altitude bamboo forests, which is not ideal for all wildlife. The researchers found that two endangered species, Asiatic black bear and forest musk deer, have actively lost their habitat in the most intensely protected panda areas. And in places where the habitat for forest musk deer and Asiatic black bear, as well as two other claw-hoofed species, Chinese Serow and Reeves Muntjac, has changed for the better, that has changed for the worse for pandas. “Now we know that in protecting pandas we are losing Asiatic black bears, musk deer and likely many other species,” said Dr. Wang.

The results reflect what some colleagues from Dr. Wang published research that found that panda conservation has not helped large carnivores in China such as leopards, wolves, and snow leopards.

David Lindenmayer, a conservation biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra who was not involved in the research, said the new panda results heightened ongoing concerns about the umbrella species’ approach to conservation. While pandas and other high profile species are great for fundraising and campaigning, rare animals usually have very specific habitat requirements. Efforts to preserve an entire ecosystem rarely match the needs of these more charismatic species, said Dr. Lindenmayer.

“It is very sober to make decisions about which species to choose and why and which species can and cannot act as useful substitutes,” he said. “Otherwise serious mistakes will be made.”

In China, the reception of the panda results is inconsistent, said Dr. Wang. “Some people said it was just common sense that species need their own habitat, others asked me why I wrote an article in English criticizing our great success in protecting panda.”

Dr. Wang was concerned that the government would be dissatisfied, but so far the response has been mostly positive. “You have started talking about integrating a multi-species surveillance network into the new giant panda national park in central China,” he said. “You may not be happy with this finding, but I think you are moving forward to avoid repeating similar results.”

There are already some changes on site. For example, the World Wide Fund for Nature-China, which works with the Chinese government, recently included snow leopards in its conservation strategy.