Problems in Chinese Panda Reserve

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

A new report says people are harming the Wolong Nature Reserve, China's largest protected area for giant pandas. The report says the environment in the nature reserve is being destroyed quicker than in other parts of China that are not protected. This is causing a decrease in the panda population in the nature reserve. Research scientists from the United States and China did the study. Science magazine published their findings. Giant pandas are becoming increasingly rare in the wild. Only about one-thousand of the animals live in the mountains of southwestern China.

Chinese officials established Wolong Nature Reserve in Nineteen-Seventy-Five. It covers two-hundred-thousand hectares of land in Sichuan Province. It is home to ten percent of China's wild panda population.

However, the number of pandas in Wolong has decreased since the reserve was created. The research team says there were one-hundred-forty-five pandas in the reserve in Nineteen-Seventy-Four. Twelve years later, the panda population fell to seventy-two. The team says the number probably is even smaller today.

Giant pandas live in mountain areas where there are plenty of forests. They eat mainly bamboo plants. The researchers compared the rates of change in Wolong's forests and environment before and after the reserve opened. They examined satellite images taken since Nineteen-Sixty-Five.

The researchers found that humans have taken control of large parts of Wolong. Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University led the study. He says human settlements have grown in the reserve, mainly because it has so many visitors. The human population has increased by seventy percent since the reserve was created. The people are cutting more trees for fuel and other uses. This has destroyed areas where pandas live.

Mr. Liu's team says the best hope for Wolong is to improve education for the young people who live there. Then they can get jobs and move to other parts of China.

A panda expert at the World Wildlife Fund says China has more than thirty other protected areas for giant pandas. Most of them are not threatened by human activities. And she says panda protection is becoming very important in China.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English