Panda habitat: Key to panda survival

Pandas share their home, even in reserves, with people locked in their own struggle to survive.

Wolong National Nature Reserve

Pandas share their home, even in reserves, with people locked in their own struggle to survive. The logging and farming that provides humans heat for their homes and income to survive has wiped out acres of panda-friendly terrain.

Recent history is steeped in irony. China’s efforts to save the pandas have made the nature reserves an irresistible tourist attraction. Panda fans on ecotourism trips flock like groupies. This commerce and development degrades panda habitat, and the May 2008 earthquake that killed tens of thousands people in that area caused further destruction. The long-term damage to the pandas’ habitat in Wolong was minimal.

The mountains of Sichuan

Getting to Wolong from the Chengdu is a drive of contrasts — not just from bend to bend, but from meter to meter. As a car hurtles up the winding slopes, on one side are steep cliffs plunging to the roaring Pitiao River. The river doesn’t meander like most American bodies of water. This one roars, as if its life purpose is to pummel the enormous boulders that have chosen to get in its way. Its muddy color comes from the acres of soil that wash down from the mountain.

On the other side is rock. Or tightly wedged villages, or cabbage plots with a line of corn insinuating itself between rows. Or a cement factory, or a string of open-air shops, or Tibetan children walking home from school — all but in the path of the speeding cars. Or laborers with hoes and shovels thrown over their shoulders. Or the bounty of a coal mine, dumped down the mountain to where it can be reached.

The Wolong National Nature Reserve

Established in 1963, the reserve covers an area of about 200,000 hectares. There are more than 4,000 different species recorded in the reserve.  The research station is called Wuyipeng (say OOO-ee-pong). Wuyipeng is in the bamboo jungle of reserve about an hour-and-a-half hike up the switchbacks of a steep mountain. The research station was established in the 1980s in collaboration with United States and Chinese researchers and has sheltered scores of panda researchers since it’s in the heart of panda habitat. In 2001, the station was refurbished and had electricity (at least until the earthquake), and a bathroom.

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