Close up of a giant panda, China

ROAD TO RECOVERY

Undoing the damage inflicted on vital panda habitat is still a work in progress, but a new discovery shows we’re on the right track.

In the 1970s, the Qinling section of the Chinese National Highway 108 – a 3,200km road stretching between the cities of Kunming and Beijing – was opened to traffic. But connecting humans came at the expense of wildlife. By cutting through the main habitat of giant pandas in the southern Qinling mountains, the road split the bears living in the region into two separate populations. Such isolation has a devastating impact on a species that needs to be able to roam freely to find new bamboo forests and potential mates.

A glimmer of hope came in 2000 when a new road tunnel was opened, resulting in a section of the highway being abandoned. This raised the possibility that the two isolated populations could be reunited.

But by that time, the forest had been damaged by people collecting wood and other resources. Restoration by natural means would take far too long for the smaller of the two panda populations in the east, which had only 20 individuals and was at high risk of local extinction. It was clear that intervention was needed before it was too late.

Giant Panda resting, Panda Breeding Centre, Wolong Panda Reserve, Sichuan Province, China.
Giant Panda resting, Sichuan Province, China. © Bernard De Wetter / WWF

Over 18 years in the making

In 2005, WWF worked with local partners to draw up a plan to restore the forest in the area and turn it into a wildlife corridor, giving the two panda populations a chance to mingle and thrive once more. In the past 18 years, more than 133 hectares of bamboo forest has been planted, nine tunnels under the road (known as ecoducts) have been built and existing forest has been protected. WWF has also supported essential scientific research, community education and conservation planning.

After almost two decades of restoration efforts, wildlife sightings in the corridor – including giant pandas – have increased significantly. Camera-trap images have shown that pandas were using the area more frequently. Images also revealed dozens of other species, including leopards, takins (a large, goat-like mammal), golden snub-nose monkeys and black bears – proof that restoring the forest for pandas benefits all other wildlife!

Giant Panda, 1 year old male Wolong Research Centre, Sichuan China
Qinling giant panda, lazily eating bamboo on her back in the Qin Ling Mountains. Shaanxi Province, China © Fritz Pölking / WWF

Population boost, thanks to your support.

But the corridor isn't just being used to migrate. For the first time, tangible evidence has been found, showing that giant pandas are foraging in the restored forest: panda poo and half-eaten bamboo stems!

It’s a promising sign that the habitat quality has improved and is now maturing into a rich, healthy ecosystem that can support all native wildlife. It’s only by reconnecting isolated giant panda populations that the species has a chance of survival, and thanks to people like you, we’ve given these two populations the best possible boost.

Qinling giant panda, Xi Wang, lazily eating bamboo on her back in the Qin Ling Mountains. Shaanxi Province, China
Giant Panda, 1 year old male, Wolong Research Centre, Sichuan China © Chris Hail / WWF