The rapid development of modern China's economy and infrastructure provides an increasing threat to the giant panda. The rarest member of the bear family, the giant panda is one of the most endangered animals in the world. Despite efforts on the part of the Chinese government undertaken in 2005, the species continues to decline. Effects of the giant panda being endangered include the expected negative side effects and some unexpected positive ones.
Bamboo provides the primary food source for panda bears. By eating bamboo, giant pandas provide an important step in the chain of bamboo propagation. Panda bears ingest bamboo seeds from numerous plants and distribute those seeds over a wide area through defecation. The dissemination of seeds via panda poo promotes increased bamboo distribution and the propagation of successive, healthy generations of the plant. The World Wildlife Foundation reports that bamboo proliferation has declined as pandas have become increasingly rare.
The natural habitat of the panda bear provides a number of benefits for the people of China. The endangerment of the panda and the destruction of its natural habitat seriously impacts the extent to which the Chinese people may reap those benefits. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the habitat of the panda provides tourism capital, hydropower, fisheries and agricultural and water resources. The decrease in panda numbers upsets the balance of ecosystems in this region by, among other things, decreasing bamboo distribution. Changes in this ecosystem alter its uses to the Chinese people and government.
The Zoo Effect
The zoo effect provides the proverbial double-edged sword in the giant panda endangerment predicament. The rarity of giant pandas increases their popularity as a zoo attraction, thus every zoo in the world wants to get its hands on a panda. The popularity of pandas in zoos increases public awareness of their predicament and may serve to bring increased donations to panda preservation organizations. Animals raised in the zoo also receive protection against forces that kill pandas in the wild. However, placing pandas in zoos entails removing them from the wild. This further decreases the number of wild bears. Thus, while endangerment increases awareness of the predicament of the bears, the more bears live in zoos, the fewer live in the wild.
Positive Effects in Preservation Efforts
Panda International staff member Tom McCoy writes of some positive effects of panda endangerment, although he asserts that these effects would increase and decrease in direct accordance with the panda population in China. The 2008 earthquake in China destroyed vast swaths of bamboo forests that provided an important habitat for pandas. Recovery initiatives paid Chinese farmers to seed and tend bamboo plants. These efforts proved successful and expanded into full-scale bamboo farming that allows farmers to harvest the plant and earn a living wage without infringing on the panda’s habitat. This initiative provided Chinese farmers with jobs and an income while promoting environmentally sustainable farming practices.
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