A huge home for the pandas - but the people must scram

World

A huge home for the pandas - but the people must scram

A new massive panda park will open migration routes for the endangered mammals, but 170,000 people could be displaced

Neil Connor

A huge panda park aimed at boosting numbers of the long-endangered species and bringing tourism to remote parts of China has moved a step closer to becoming reality after it secured £1.1-billion worth of funding. The Giant Panda National Park will be developed across a vast mountainous area covering 16,093 sq kilometres — about twice the size of Yorkshire in the UK and three times the size of Yellowstone National Park in the US.It will establish “migration corridors” to link the current 67 panda reserves on six isolated mountain ranges across an area spanning three provinces.
China has long faced problems increasing the number of pandas due to inbreeding among small sub-populations, which sometimes number fewer than 10 members. Such small groups are vulnerable to disease and are less able to adapt to changing environments.The new park will allow for the animals to “mate with pandas from other areas, enrich their gene pool and raise their numbers in the wild”, state media said, after the idea was first approved by Beijing last year.
Details of a 10-billion yuan, five-year funding package from a state-owned bank was unveiled last week. The announcement came as the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, was about to confirm that Xi Jinping, the current leader, will to rule for life.The return of strongman rule in China might increase the importance to Beijing of soft power — including the long-held diplomatic tool of gifting other nations pandas. But so-called “panda diplomacy” has been met with challenges, given the notoriously low reproductive rate of the animals. The park will be located in largely undeveloped areas of three neighbouring provinces: Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi. Sichuan is home to 80% of the world’s wild pandas, while the remainder live in the other two provinces.
There are currently just over 2,000 giant pandas, experts say, double the 1995 number, and an increase from around 1,600 in 2003.In the wild, there are 1,864 pandas, 17% more than a decade ago, according to the most recent national survey in February 2015. China wants to raise the wild population to more than 2,000 by 2025. The species came off the “endangered” list in 2016, but is still classified as “vulnerable”.
The new park is also being seen as a means of helping hundreds of thousands of local people out of poverty.
However, while state media said that some local communities may be able to improve their standard of living through employment in tourism, as many as 170,000 people would have to be relocated.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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