BEIJING - The forestry administration in Southwest China's Sichuan province launched a wild panda population survey at the weekend, which is the prelude to a new nationwide census of this endangered mammal.
More than 60 experts and officials attended a two-day training program at Wanglang Nature Reserve in Pingwu county of Sichuan province and they began the field study today, Qiu Jian, an official from the wildlife protection department of Sichuan Provincial Forestry Administration, told China Daily.
The census-takers are zoologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, panda experts from the country's 30 nature reserves and officials from the forestry departments in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, Qiu said.
"We are going to count the number of wild pandas by studying their footprints and DNA analysis of their dung," said Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, who is participating in the pilot survey.
The State Forestry Administration will design procedures for a nationwide census based on the experiences from this pilot project and then expand the census to pandas across the country. There were 1,596 giant pandas living in China's mountain areas, according to the last survey conducted almost 10 years ago by the State Forestry Administration and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Official statistics show that the country's 62 nature reserves are home to 71 percent of China's panda population.
However, the fragmentation of the panda's natural habitats due to China's rapid urbanization and economic development has posed a major challenge for the panda's survival in the wild, said Fan Zhiyong, director of the species program for WWF in Beijing.
"In recent years, more and more roads and railways have been built as a result of China's accelerated urbanization and economic growth, which has fragmented the panda's habitats," Fan said, adding that the splitting of habitats prevent pandas from roaming and mingling with other pandas.
What's worse, it may lead to inbreeding and reduce the gene diversity of pandas, he stressed.
The census on wild pandas carried out in Wanglang will not only give a more accurate estimate of this bamboo-eating creature's population but also discover more about its age structure and the condition of its habitats, Yang Xuyu, a forestry official from Sichuan told Chengdu Economic Daily.