A SAFE SPACE
A safe, sheltered den is vital for pandas to raise cubs. Thanks to your adoption, we can help protect the habitat mothers need to breed.
Xu Qiang, regional programme head (Chengdu), WWF-China field notes from Meigu Dafengding National Nature Reserve.
The recovery of giant panda populations is, arguably, hampered by their own biology. Females are fertile only once a year, for just two or three days, and tend to give birth to just one or two cubs every two to three years. To make matters more complicated, their opportunities to breed are limited by human activities that fragment their habitat, making it harder to find a mate and a suitable place to give birth. Seeing any sign of pandas breeding in the wild is incredibly rare, so you can imagine our excitement when rangers found a newborn panda cub in a hollowed-out tree trunk in Meigu Dafengding National Nature Reserve. Checking the camera-trap footage, they saw a female entering the hollow a short while earlier. This is the second time they’ve found a newborn cub in this particular tree cave.
For pandas to thrive, they need more than just bamboo: females rely on sites such as caves or natural cavities in trees to give birth. The tiny cub is born blind and hairless. It takes a week or two before its fur grows – until then it’s unable to regulate its own body temperature and is dependent on its mother for warmth and protection from the weather.
Despite devoted care, with females fasting for two to three weeks and only leaving the den to defecate, some cubs fail to thrive. A good denning site can be the difference between life and death, providing shelter from the cold and rain, and a space to hide the cub from predators, such as leopards and Asian golden cats. The family will use the den for at least three to four months until the cub is big enough to be hidden in a thicket while its mother goes foraging.
The giant panda’s wild habitat today consists of only six mountain ranges in western China, where they live in different kinds of forests. Old-growth forests (forests that haven’t been disturbed by human activity) provide large tree cavities for den sites. But in areas where most of the large old trees were felled before the logging ban in 1998, such as in Qinling, a lack of these safe spaces could be contributing to the decline in population.
Where no old trees are available, pregnant pandas will look for a cave in the ground or on the side of a hill or cliff. But females prefer tree dens because they’re better at buffering against extremes of temperature and humidity than caves, providing a more stable microclimate for rearing cubs successfully.
This recent sighting of a newborn is a testament to our partners’ work to protect and improve the panda’s wild habitat. Old-growth forests aren’t just vital for pandas, they also capture huge amounts of carbon and provide important ecosystem services to local communities. Meigu Dafengding National Nature Reserve is in a landscape that’s a biodiversity hotspot and crucial for panda conservation, but it’s outside the Giant Panda National Park and vulnerable to climate change. We’ve worked with communities since 2010 to install 1,200 energy-saving stoves in homes. The stoves are helping reduce firewood use and, in turn, carbon emissions. With your support, we’ll also continue working to connect panda populations using wildlife corridors.