Feb. 5, 2018, 4:45 p.m.View more articles
Malaysia’s only female panda has just given birth to her second cub, and people are pretty excited about it! It’s a big deal when baby pandas are born, because it doesn’t happen very often. Female pandas are only fertile for about one day each year, which means that it’s very difficult for them to become pregnant.
As a matter of fact, everything was looking quite difficult for pandas until recently. In the 1970s, there were around 1000 pandas left in the wild. They were officially described as endangered, which meant that they were facing a very high risk of dying out completely. To try to save them, humans have been carrying out animal conservation work.
Animal conservation is the process of trying to protect a certain species in order to stop it from dying out. It seems to be working for the pandas: in 2014, when they were last officially counted, 1864 bears were recorded living in the wild. Then, in 2017, pandas went from being described officially as endangered to being described as vulnerable. Although this still means that the panda is in danger, it’s now considered safer.
You might be wondering why the pandas were dying out. They were struggling to survive because humans were removing their habitat. A habitat is the place where something lives because it can get everything it needs to survive there. The panda’s natural habitat is a bamboo forest. Their diet is almost entirely bamboo, and they use the forest for shelter, too. Humans cut down bamboo to use it for building materials and fuel, but they didn’t always replace the plants they removed. Sometimes they used the cleared space to build farms. Pandas prefer to live in peace and quiet, so they ended up being forced away from anywhere that was used by humans.
There are many reasons for helping to increase the panda population. The bears help to spread bamboo seeds, so without pandas, bamboo forests would struggle to grow. But lots of other animals also rely on these forests to provide their habitat – so many of the birds, monkeys and sheep that live there would also start struggling to survive. If we protect the panda, we can protect many other animals, too.
Because panda populations are still very low, scientists keep some in zoos. They keep a close eye on the females to figure out exactly when they become fertile, and then they introduce a male panda to the female. Captive pandas have access to all the food they need, and pregnant mothers are given extra care and medical attention to try to give the baby cub the best chance of surviving.
However, it would be best if there were so many pandas in the wild that we didn’t need to keep them in captivity to help them survive. So we have to protect the areas that they would normally live in.
Giant pandas are originally from China, and the country’s government has been working hard to make safe spaces for the pandas, known as reserves. In a panda reserve, it’s illegal to chop down any of the forest for logs. This makes sure that pandas have plenty of vegetation to eat and shelter in.
It’s also important to make sure that pandas in the reserves can actually reach each other! Most of the time, pandas are solitary, which means that they live by themselves. However, they have to find each other in order to mate, and busy roads and noisy railway lines can prevent this from happening. They’re only built in reserves when they absolutely have to be.
A smarter thing to build is a bamboo corridor. Bamboo corridors are safe passages built by humans that link up areas of forest where pandas are known to live. They encourage the pandas to meet each other in the wild and to find new places in the forest that have plenty of fresh food for them.
Hopefully, if we continue giving giant pandas the extra care that they need just now, they won’t need our help at all in the future!
Watch Conservation to learn more about why conservation is so important.