Paris: It may be one of the most recognisable symbols of conservation, but efforts to protect the giant panda have failed to safeguard large mammals sharing its habitats, according to research published recently showing dramatic declines of leopards and other predators.
The giant panda has won the hearts of animal lovers around the world and images of the bamboo-eating creature with its ink-blot eye patches have come to represent global efforts to protect biodiversity. Since conservation efforts began, China has cracked down on poachers, outlawed the trade in panda hides and mapped out dozens of protected habitats.
The strategy is considered one of the most ambitious and high-profile programmes to save a species from extinction — and it worked. The panda was removed from the International Union for Conservation of Nature endangered species list in 2016 although it remains “vulnerable”.
But a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has cast doubt over the idea that efforts to protect the panda automatically help all other animals in its territory. Researchers found that the leopard, snow leopard, wolf and dhole — also known as the Asian wild dog — have almost disappeared from the majority of giant panda protected habitats since the 1960s.
The findings “indicate the insufficiency of giant panda conservation for protecting these large carnivore species,” said Sheng Li, of the School of Life Sciences at Peking University, who led the research. The authors compared survey data from the 1950s to 1970s with information from almost 8,000 camera traps taken between 2008 and 2018.
They found that leopards had disappeared from 81 per cent of giant panda reserves, snow leopards from 38 per cent, wolves from 77 per cent and dholes from 95 per cent. The predators face threats from poachers, logging and disease, the study found.
Panda conservation has helped protect other animals, Sheng Li said, including small carnivores, pheasants and songbirds. “Failing to safeguard large carnivore species does not erase the power of giant panda as an effective umbrella that has well sheltered many other species,” he added.
The conservation group lists the leopard and snow leopard as vulnerable across the areas they are found in, while the dhole is listed as endangered.