Chinese Government Released the Results of the 4th National Panda Census

On February 28, 2015, before the opening of the National Congress and the Chinese People`s Political Consultative Conference, the State Forestry Administration held a domestic and media in Beijing. Chen Fe, vice-director of the State Forestry Administration, announced the result of the 4th National Giant Panda Census, that since the end of 2013 the wild giant panda population has reached 1,864.The increase of the wild giant panda population in the habitats of Qnling, Min, Qionglai, Darkingliy, Xiaoxiangling, Daliang and Xiaoliang Mountains has inspired panda researchers, local residents and international panda fans.

The State Forestry Administration initiated the 4th census in 2011. It took a painstaking three years to complete, with over 2,000 staff involved, 20,513 transect lines and 11,901 vegetation quad-rats completed.A census of the giant panda population has been conducted every 10 years since the early 19705, at which time the first census counted 2,459 wild pandas.

The second census took place in the 1980s at a time when large areas of bamboo flowered on both Min and Qionglai Mountains. The flowering bamboo caused a great mine For the species and the final count was down to just I,I 14 wild glint pandas.

Researchers carried out the 3rd census in the first years of the 20005, numbering 1,596 wild pandas. Because of improved methods, both the 3rd census and the 4th census were more accurate than the first two. Wild panda habitats cover 196 townships,49 counties, and 17 cities across Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces.

The population distributions are shown as follows:

Sichuan: 1,387 wild pandas, the largest wild panda population, accounted For 74.496 of the national total, and contains 78.796 of panda habitat area in China.
Shaanxi: 345 wild pandas accounted for 18.596 of the national total. The habitat area accounted for 1496 of that in China, and it has the highest wild panda density.
Gansu: 132 wild pandas accounted for 7.196 of the national total, with I I.6 96 of panda habitat area in the country Chen Fengxue pointed out that compared with the previous census, d1e 4tll census highlighted four interesting differences.

The first was steady growth in the wild population which numbered 1,864, an increase of 16.896 since the 3rd census.The second observation was habitat expansion. At 2,580,000 hectares, the wild giant panda habitat had increased I I.896 with 4 new counties included in the distribution area since the last census. The potential habitat increased by 6.396 and measured 910,000 hectares.Third, the captive population increased from164 in 2003 to 375 in 2013. Fourth, protection and management capacity has gradually increased and the number of giant panda nature reserves reached 67. With the 66.896 and 53.896 increase in d1e protection of wild panda population red its habitat respectively the over panda protection situation showed great improvement.

Regarding the 1,864 wild pandas, Zhang Xiwu, director of the Protection Division of the State Forestry Administration said, “Giant pandas’ living conditions are directly related to their protection.” Each set of data verified the effect of the protection policies and efforts of census staff members.

From the late 19705 to the early 19805, a large area of bamboo flowered. The severe food shortage seriously threatened pandas’ survival and led to a decline in their numbers and habitats. In response to the Chinese government passed specialized laws, founded specific agencies and allocated funds for giant panda protection. In early 1992, the State Forestry Administration started a large, 10-year giant panda and the habitat protection project.

The 3 census conducted at the end of that project counted 1,596 pandas, and habitat loss was under preliminary control. Since 2001, the State Forestry Administration launched the National Wildlife Conservation and the Nature Reserve Construction Organizations, giving more authority and putting special measures into place to save pandas and other wild animals. The 4th census result preserved the protection for the past 10 years has been effective.

From Data Into Results: Reasons For the Increase in Giant Pandas

Over the past ten years, data collect during the 4th National Giant Panda Census indicates an increase in panda numbers and habitat. These results are best through the experiences of the staff that conducted the census. Veteran 3 census generally agreed that the 4 census trails were far more difficult to trek. Li Rengui, the big brother for the 46 census went by the nickname Scud. His hometown is Fengtongihai, Baoxing County in Sichuan and during his childhood, cud had to up and down Mountains to go to school. He walked so fast that no one could catch up. In 1994, at the age of 18, he took over his father’s position at the Fengtongzhai Nature reserve and became the driving force behind the 3nf census. He often led his best temporary to the census area called a quadrat.

The members would be wore out after completing one quadrat,Yet be would complete three quadrats with a straight-line distance off l.2km. Scud said that during the 3ni census] the Forestry Industry Bureau had only recently banned logging. At that time, although the forest roads were bad, cars could always get through. Three years later throughout the 41h census, the forest conservation policy had come into hill effect. The recovering forest was too duck to drive a car through, and its immense growth forced slash a path to trek the woods. Therefore, in comparison to the 3rd census, the 4’1 one proceeded substantially slower.

Jiang Cho, vice-director of Sichuan Provincial Forestry Department and general director in the 4th census said,”In the 19905, the Chinese government banned logging in the upper Yangtze River and pumped .And manpower into the Natural Forest Protection Project and Reforestation Project, which was undoubtedly good news For pandas living there. Two decades later, there are more green mountains and clean water.”

Nature reserves are the main habitat of wild pandas. To a large extent, local residents have positively impacted wild pandas. In order to ties protected areas, lifestyles and attitudes of residents that live in panda habitats have changed.Some residents and their families moved, and the previous practices of hunting, collecting and selling herbs to make a living has been forbidden and deemed ill. Unlike in the past, residents do not mind pandas infringing upon their crops or killing livestock such as sheep. They have made great sacrifices to protect pandas. Along with the improvement and protection of panda habitat, there has been corresponding progress for the decrease of human-wildlife conflicts, which is integral for steady growth.

In the early 1980s, the Wolong people’s consciousness of eco-protection was still at its beginning stages. Deforestation was a regular occurrence and this gained the attention of tbe Zhongnanhai, the political center for China’s government. In response, Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, wrote important instructions on an internal report from Lao Wei, a reporter from Xinhua News Agency.

Punishing poachers and collecting hunting tools became a primary focus. Two decades later and the Wolong people’s viewpoint of eco-protection has improved tremendously. The 7.9 earthquake that hit Wenchuan in Sichuan province on May 12,2008 was a devastating blow to the Hetaoping Captive Center in neighboring Wolong. Several pandas from the center were relocated to Ya an. People came in droves, and cried while they bade farewell to the pandas. Thanks to pandas, housing in the reserve demanded a higher standard so the loss of life and property within the reserve caused by the earthquake was much less compared to towns nearby “To protect pandas is to protect ourselves,” the local residents thought. During reconstruction,people from the of Gengda in the Wolong Natore reserve built a modern captive panda research center in Huangcaoping.

In the past 30 years the great changes in Wolong Nature Reserve are the standard for the other 67 panda natural reserves in China.The improvement of the environment ensures pandas will have the opportunity to breed and expand their territorial range. The 4′ census results showed pandas’ habitat has with another 4.

In Gansu province, after ll Years without pandas, the Asia Nature Reserve is once again seeing breed.lg panda pairs. The revival and inaease of endangered species’ in a particular location is a great symbol of environmental protection succeqs.

In September 2013, a panda was discovered for the first time in Laojun Mountain Nature reserve in Pingshan County Yibin city Sichuan. On December 10 of the same year, the Sichuan Provincial Forestry Department sent 6 staff members of the 41 census to Laojun Mountain Nature reserve to do a held survey where they collected panda Eeces, fdr and other markers. The infared camera also showed eviden~ce of pandas in tl.te reserve by capturing an image of the panda. Pingshan County bes within Yibin city the home of a hoous Chinese liquor called Wuliangye. The news of a panda appearing in Yibin city spread like wildfire. People were joked that the liquor attracted the panda.

Over the past decade, with the combined efforts of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda] the number of captive panda population has increased at a rate of over 10%. Artificial insemination and its corresponding technology for pandas has also been practiced overseas and aided in revitalizing the captive panda population.

When asked about the traditional strategies and differences in the 4 censuses,Zhang Xiwu answered the following:
Each census utilized a different method of scientific analysis. “Biological Population Transect Density Estimation’ methods were used in the 1st census, “Dragnet Route Survey” method in the 2nd and “Bite-size Technique” and “Distance Indication” method in the 3rd. In the first three censuses,the data displayed the changing trend in pandas’ numbers, but due to different survey methods the data cannot be adequately compared. To solve this problem, the 4at census followed the method of the previous census.

Zhang Xiwu told tile reporter, that like the 3rd census, the 4th census calculated pandas by measuring the length of undigested bamboo pieces left in the feces and the distance of the panda. Data was collected Rom the location of panda feces and the length of the bamboo pieces in the feces, coupled with panda hair, bite marks, nests, dens, scent rook trees, footprints and DNA test results to distinguish the wild individuals and resulted in the Anal total population number. Distanced was measured by combining a non-invasive DNA test to analyze genetic diversity and satellite remote sensing data to evaluate habitat conditions. So the number is accurate to ten individuals. Besides following the route method in the previous census, the 4at census added “Non-invasive DNA Identified method.
In order to accurately find panda traces, the staff members marked out many 2-square-kilometer squares in each survey area. According to the location displayed by a Personal Data Assistant, PDA, the staff members surveyed in a S or Z shaped-route for each division to be measured.

Wang Hongjia was a participant in the 2nd and the 3rd censuses, and director of the leadership of the 4th census, explained to the reporter: the S or Z shaped-route was a method used. Its main purpose was to discover and collect panda feces, as that was the most important evidence and method of measurement for panda distribution and activity.

Completing one to two transect lines was quite good under the leadership of an experienced guide. Sometimes, they could not complete even one transect line the landscape was complex or due to the occurrence of bad weather.The survey by route method played a decisive role in the wild panda population distribution, number and density.

In mountains of endless forests and hills, the discovery of panda feces for scientific analysis and die main task, would always make staff .Panda feces are the main evidence for pandas in an area. Pandas always place bamboo leaves and stem sideways into their mouths, bite and swallow yet the bamboo cannot properly be digested due to the panda’s carnivorous digestive system.As a result there are always bamboo remnants in panda feces.

During the First 3 censuses, the researchers broke the collected feces and measured the teeth distance from the remaining bite marks on the bamboo, and then comprehensively analyzed the age and health condition of each panda. In the first 3 censuses, DNA was not used to identify pandas because the technology was not available. In the 46 census, DNA tests provided a scientific basis for understanding the panda population and genetic diversity.

Fresh panda feces have a bamboo scent, and are green and spindle-shaped with a bright mucosal layer on the surface. When fresh panda feces were found, the staff put on sterile gloves, placed it carefully into a sample bag and handed it to the specialists. 7he specialists stripped the surface layer, washed the feces in anhydrous ethanol, stored it in solvent and then placed the sample in numbered and sealed bottles to be sent to the relevant research institutes for DNA analysis.

In 1980 the chairman of the World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, Lord Scott, found panda feces near Wuyipeng Field Observation Station,Wolong. He said “It is just as precious as the rocks from the moon. Lord Scott understood the immense value and importance that these specimens have and their relation to increased knowledge and protection of the species.

Finding fecal samples meant that the bud work of the 4th census staff was not in vain. Whoever found panda feces would receive an applause from his team mates. The older participants of the la census felt warmhearted when meeting the staff of the 46 one. When they met, they compared their different experiences. With census there has been immense improvement with the quality of equipment used.

The 1st census staff wore old uniforms or old cotton padded jackets, like a motley whereas the 4th census staffwore structured MTWF green jackets that were light,warm and cool.Transportation has greatly improved between the censuses, saving bod.I time and energy During the la census, 18 members crowded together, sat on the luggage in a Nanjing truck, and were covered with dirt from the bone-shaking ride on a bumpy road. For the 4th census four off-road vehicles drove on smooth roads, easily sending rested staff to the nearest transect line location.

Methods used to identify location greatly altered between each census. In census to identify locations, compasses, altimeters and maps were used. GPS (Global Positioning System) was used in 3nd census. In the 4th census PDA+GPS (GPS computer) with data processing software were used to record the transect lines. They need not record them on a small note book any more.

The 1st census began in 1974 when a political propaganda campaign,the “Anti-Lin Biao,Anti-Confucius”, started by Mao Zedong and his wife, Jiang Qing. Under such enormous political pressure, the State Forestry Administration and Sichuan Provincial Forestry Department secretly gathered a group to do the survey. The 4th census began in 2011 when overall national strength and the people’s living standards had both greatly increased.

From the first census to the 4th, the world has seen great progress in China in giant panda protection and tile eco-environment.

Biological Population Transect Density Estimation

Surveyors walk along trails placed randomly throughout the area and count the number of panda signs (feces, pandas and much more) and use the average number of signs per trail to develop a estimate the total number in the area.

“Dragnet” Route Survey:
The entire area is up into plots, which were all surveyed and used to generate an estimate.

Technique and Distance Identification:
Staff walk transects throughout the area, and record the locations of all giant panda signs. The bite-size of all signs are recorded to estimate the age of individuals in the areas which helps to decrease the amount of double-counts for individuals and estimate the age demographics of the population. Then, the distance method takes into account the fact that the probability of observing an decreases the farther away the transect an animal is. This technique helps to increase the accuracy of the estimate.

Joys and Pains of Data Collection

Giant panda reserves in Sichuan, China’s main panda habitats, lay over 3 fault zones covering a total of 470km.
The May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake tore apart the habitat, leaving scars along the landscape that the 40 census members trekked upon Wild panda habitat consists of steep cliffs, deep valleys and dense .The lasting effects of the earthquake were felt via sudden occurrences of landslides or mudslides.

The 4th census was conducted by young men whose age combined together, averaged 32.On April 20, 2013, at 8:02am, a quake stroke Lushan. Vice-director Jiang Cho in Chengdu anxiously commanded the 401 census staff in the mountains to retreat to safety. Wang Hongjia, Yang Xuyu and Go Xiaodongin Chengdu made numerous phone calls for details to the census , to understand who was injured and required aid.

In Longxi Hongkou, Dujiangyan, the 4th census staff members felt the earthquake and immediately ran from their tents, leaving their clothes behind, however quickly they became frozen stiff by the cold. The team leader told Go Xiaodong on the phone,”We are quite safe. Could we stay in our current position?””No, retreat at once. This is order!”

In direct opposition, the team members refused to retreat and continued their trek to the specified transect line location. In their point of view if they had retreated after the earthquake, they would need to climb yet apple bud mountains that they had just. The team leader pretended not to hear the phone dearly and cut off the phone. Go could not get through any more. What was more upsetting to the commanders was that they could not contact with Zhang Jiao’s team in Xiiing Snow Mountain, the closest to Lushan, the epicenter of the earthquake.

When the tremors First began, Zhang Jian’s team members were calm, they had substantial experience 0f4.OM or above in the pandas’ hometown-Longmen Mountain. Yet the team quickly realized this earthquake was different, the tremors became increasingly violent and Ute air was filled with deep rumbling sounds of landslides Rom mountains surrounding .

The moment the earth stopped shaking,Zhang Jian sent a member down the mountain,as they had lost a phone signal. When the team member succeeded he immediately contacted the Sichuan Forestry Department to report that all were safe.

The Sichuan Forestry Department leaders asked them to retreat,Zhangjian’s team was with the dilemma, whether to retreat or to continue forwards.

They had made tremendous efforts to climb over a mountain overpass called “Snow Threshold”of 3,800m above sea level to enter Xiiing Snow Mountain. The survey had not yet been completed, yet if they retreated to safety like the previous group, they would have to climb over the “Snow Threshold” again days later. Eventually the team decitied that they would continue the survey despite the risk of aftershocks.

They were effective with their tune and task and completed 9 lines on April 21 and 22.Vice-director Jiang Cho exclaimed, “Our stab members in the 4tlt census have a strong sense of responsibility!” The 4th census feared above all else bad weather, mudslides and being trapped in the Mountains. Because of the tacit, Li Rengui from woJong,with his teammates, were trapped in a temporary-made shelter that compromised of plastic tarp for one week. Food supplies almost ran out, cell phones ran out of power and clothes were continually damp from non-stop min. Li Rengui felt that the dull hydroponic sound of the pounding rain on the plastic penetrated into every part of make shift shelter and into soul.

For the one-week the team spent huddled,wet and hungry under the plastic, they thought that their only happiness would be For the rain to end,so that d1ey could continue their journey the forest and accomplish their mission.One night as the team Slept in a workshop of a power station, Shimian County Lu Wenlong woke up at 2:OOam and heard a sudden and muffled sound in the rain.Feeling uncomfortable and scared, he and his teammates ran out of the workshop immediately. Thank they did, as a freak mudslide overtook the workshop, sweeping it and everything inside it, the pans, clothes and bedding] away .Many staff in the 40 census were scared that they would become trapped in the mountains.

Zhang Yi from Ya’an Forestry Bureau, with his local guide, walked transect lines in Tongchang River in Dachuan,Lushan. To their excitement, they consistently found panda feces after completing only two transect lines. Without carefully studying the route, their initial plan was to climb down to the bottom of the cliff and walk along the river. But upon arriving at the middle of the cliff they discovered that there was no way that they Could get to the bottom. As well, they had lost their Hash-lift and at that time it was dark and rainy Tile cold settled deep within their bones, and they could not move or see. This situation reminded them of Yu Guobao, Zhang Yi’s teammate, who was trapped in the mountains and made a fire to survive the cold night. But nor they could not move or make a fire or else they would fall off the cliff. Luckily Zhang Yi phoned his team with a weak signal.

They were encouraged to hold on to their precarious position and not fall asleep. Next day at noon, Zhang Yi with the locals, returned to the camp in cheers.The lives and satisfaction of the staff is always a high priority When asked about what satisfied them most, Wang Hongjia, Yang Xuyu, and Go Xiaodong answered with one voice “Safety first!” Our staff returned safely after experienced so many dangers. that is the greatest victory. In the opinion of the 4th census staff hails, showers, snowy whitewater, rapids, cliffs and dangerous mountain overpasses were work reaped huge rewards.

The older participant in the 3rd census, Zhu Yundong from Xiaozhaizi Valley Beichuan, painfully endured the loss of his 5-year-old twin sons in the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. When the 4 census began, he left his newborn daughter Si Yu, for a Hard work is the best medicine for the pain of heart. Compared with the 3rd census, the colleagues are more united and friendly Complete transect lines, pick up panda feces, drink spirits and enjoy banquets with colleagues: that’s perfect!”

Ready to Make the Red Line for Giant Panda Protection

World famous zoologist and animal in MMF, 83-year-old George Beals Schaller has carried out collaborative panda research with Chinese experts, like Hu Jinchu and Pan Wenshi, for 5 years since 1980. Afterwards he studied different species such as the snow leopard, Tibetan antelope and other wild animals on the Tibet Plateau. He told the reporter, “For over 30 years, I have witnessed the magnificent achievements Chinese have gained the panda protection.”

Dr. Schaller came to Chengdu from Tibet Plateau soon after the 41 census results were released. When asked about the impact caused by Chinese eco-problems to wildlife in west China and how to prevent the bad impact, he answered methodically “we cannot settle matters in one step.Try to tackle these problems step by step.”With regard to the 4′ census results, everyone, from the head of the State Forestry Administration to the nature reserve staff maintained focused on their goals and objectives.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have set higher standards, yet there remains difficulties and challenges for panda conservation such as habitat fragmentation.For over 30 years, Cui Xuezhen has worked in Fengtongzhai and Baoxing Forestry Bureau.He briefly summarized 3 threats to pandas: wood,stone and water source.

In the 19805, deforestation and extensive logging led to eco-damage and habitat fragmentation, after which Baoxing white marble became world animals. Brutal exploitation, like bombing mountains with dynamite to access the white marble] panicked pandas, forcing them to flee out of fear and negatively affecting their survival and reproduction.
A lack of an adequate water source is another threat to the survival of pandas. Hydropower dams cut off rivers, and negatively impact not only the existing populations of aquatic organisms and their environment, but all wildlife including pandas.

Additionally the increase of road networks into panda habitats have sliced their environment into pieces.Nine hydropower dams are set up in Wolong Nature reserve and there are over 6,000 hydro-power stations in west Sichuan.

Driven by money and interests, these three threats have caused detrimental damage to panda habitats and the survival of these wonderful creatures.

Zhang Xiwu said: According to the 4th census results, we plan to develop strict controls to ensure the development of giant panda conservation. We will force the ecological and environmental evaluation system and regulate the construction projects with the key habitats to prevent further fragmentation.

The 4th census results and the improvements in habitat and environmental protection, made us confident that pandas will continue to have a bright future.