National Geographic : 2016 Aug
78 national geographic • August 2016 says the Smithsonian’s McShea, where habitat may be marginal. Because of the emphasis on regional economic development, “officials may say yes to hydroelectric dams, highways, and mining operations” inside panda habitat with no thought of long-term effects, he says. On a positive note, “poaching isn’t a problem here: Nobody is touching pandas,” McShea says. “They’re the third rail for poachers.” (Hunting pandas was legal in China until the 1960s; now killing one could mean 20 years in prison.) Other troubles remain, such as livestock grazing in panda habitat. “Horses and pan- das both like gentle slopes and bamboo for- ests; horses also eat bamboo. So the impact of horses on panda conservation is significant,” says China West Normal University’s Zhang humans; and capable of finding food and shelter unaided. Not all are. Adequate habitat for the bears’ release is also a concern. Since the 1970s the Chinese have gone from 12 panda reserves to 67, making the bears, on paper, the most protected animal on the planet. But many of these reserves are very small, populated by villagers, and cut up by roads, farms, and other human constructions. More than a third of wild pandas live or venture beyond reserves’ invisible boundaries anyway, Wolong Reserve keepers transport Hua Jiao (Delicate Beauty) for a health check before she finishes “wild training.” The habitat also protects red pandas, pheasant, tufted deer, and other species that benefit from giant panda conservation.