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Why the Giant Panda is a Small Species

Essay By: PrettyCherish

A short causal essay on why Pandas are an endangered species.

Submitted:Apr 17, 2010    Reads: 1,770    Comments: 0    Likes: 1   

The giant panda is a bear which resides in the tropical forests of southern China. They live in dens in which the mothers nurture their young until they are old enough to care for themselves. These creatures are herbivores which eat the bamboo stalks which the Chinese forests contain. Once a species which thrived harmoniously in those forests, they are now forced to fight for their survival. There are several causes which are contributing to the giant panda's endangerment. There are natural causes such as old age and starvation which have caused the decline in the panda's population, but humans have been the major cause of panda endangerment through the poaching of the species and the logging of their natural habitats.
Old age is the expected path to death for all plants and animals although it is not always the guaranteed cause of dying. During the first three years of their life the panda cubs are nurtured by their mothers. The cubs needed their mothers for their nutritional gain, but the mothers are also much-needed protection for the young cubs. Through research, scientists were able to discover that the likelihood of a giant panda's cub living for the first three years was a hundred percent guarantee, because of the safety and nourishment they are given from their mother. Unfortunately, from the ages of four to six years of age, the cubs must become dependent upon themselves by obtaining their own food and home ranges. The male pandas must fight for territory, which will eventually be necessary as they look for a mate and attempt to breed. The younger cubs were very likely to be seriously injured or killed, as they attempted to fight the older male pandas. An effect of this conflict would mostly be wounds from the fights, but many times the cubs were killed (Zhou 365). Their likelihood of injury was because of their inexperience to fend for themselves. Giant pandas rarely live old enough to die a natural death caused by great age. From the 1980s to the new millennia less than twenty percent of giant pandas died from old age (Zhang 8). Despite those statistics, the occurrence of natural death following a full life has doubled within the past decade. Therefore, there has been a slight decrease of the effect human activity has on the panda population. Although unfortunately there are still many causes to account for sixty percent of giant panda mortality.
In the year 1957, the Government of China classified the giant panda as Category I in the List of Key Protected Wildlife. This was further established in 1989 through the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife. Despite the legal protection of the giant panda in the country of China, there are still humans threatening danger to the species. There are people who partake in the illegal industry of trading these endangered creatures, which does have a major effect on panda populations (Zhou 364). Some humans prey upon these animals, killing them for their fur and skulls to make a large profit (Zhang 7). The poaching of the panda is a historically relevant practice, which officials believe to be "a serious and probably underreported threat" to their dwindling population. The Chinese are trying to protect these bears by severely punishing the hunters with life imprisonment, and sometimes death (Zhang 8). Poaching of the giant panda is not the only negative factor humans have had on this endangered species, though.
As much of the world has already been urbanized and is home to billions of people, natural resources are being used at an exponential rate. Developed agricultural crops and farmlands occupy a fourth of the Earth's land today, and it is estimated that ten to twenty percent of the remaining undeveloped land will be harvested for agricultural purposes by the year 2050 (Vina 1020). This means that the world's biodiversity will be greatly decreased as wildlife species are forced to live in a smaller, more concentrated area.
Human cultivation of the land has affected panda habitats greatly. By 1956, the first Chinese conservation lands were developed, which saved about thirteen percent of the forests for their diverse wildlife. There are farmers who live on these animal reservations as well and they chop down the vegetation for fuel use to keep warm and to cook pig fodder. The fuel the panda habitats gives constitutes about one-half the energy used for heat during the winter and one-third of the energy needed to cook food for the humans living in the area (Vina 1021). Because of the forest logging, the giant panda species has been restricted to twenty-four populations in the forests on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Forest degradation has not only affected their living grounds; the panda population is made up of roughly 1,100 bears (Loukes 1465). This is equivalent to an eighth of the students enrolled at Arizona State University's West Campus ("ASU West" 1). Even though there are not many pandas currently living in the Tibetan forests, the population capacity of their habitat is the most important factor to their survival, which was noted through extensive research (Zhou 364). The use of the panda's habitat has not only shrunk their living space, but has created many different issues this rare species must face.
The logging of the Tibetan forests has caused panda populations to decrease dramatically because of the many resources they have lost. With their population numbers so small and the animals living in separate sub-populations, the pandas have resorted to inbreeding, which can cause birth defects and lower their likelihood of survival (Zhou 368). With the large span of forests lost to the pandas there are many natural factors which can cause serious impacts on their population, such as the mass flowering of the bamboo plants in the forests (Zhang 8). The flowering of the bamboo plants can pose a serious threat to the bears since death of the bamboo plant follows after their period of producing flowers (Zhang 7). During the years from the 1970's to the 1980's, there was a mass bamboo flowering phenomena, causing many pandas to starve to death, since all of the flowered bamboo had died (Zhang 8). Starvation is not the only issue pandas must face in regards to nutrition, as they now have a new predator which has caused a decline in their population.
The past causes have been repeatedly proven and agreed upon by many wildlife researchers, but new projects show that the panda is now threatened by intestinal nematodes. The ascarid nematode causes disease by "extra-intestinal migration", meaning the Panda has either had contact with contaminants containing the organism, or has even ingested it (Zhang 6). This theory has been scientifically proven through the postmortem reports of 789 adult pandas and they found that the percentage of pandas dying from the disease the nematodes presented had risen greatly from the early 1970s to 2005, with the worms found in their liver, heart, lungs, and brain (Zhang 7). The nematodes can cause intestinal inflammation and digestive issues for the bears. Although this seems like a cause of death which was unpreventable by human beings, the most likely causes of the pandas coming into contact with the ascaris nematodes is because of their condensed living space of their concentrated population. The bears could have walked upon fecal matter which were contaminated with the nematode eggs, and could then be transmitted to their mouth when they use their paws to feed off the bamboo. The bears also mark their territory by either urination or fecal matter on trees, which could lead to infection if a member of their species licked or nuzzled the area, which is something they like to do to trees (Zhang 8). The increase of pandas dying from the diseases the ascaris nematodes carry is a serious matter since the nematode is a parasitic organism which can rapidly reproduce and cause further harm to pandas and other animals in the Tibetan forests.
The species of pandas has dwindled to a miniscule population of just eleven hundred, and there are still major threats being posed to the endangered animals. There are many numerous causes which have affected the giant pandas' population, but even though certain causes are of a natural reason, humans have made the most difference in the panda population. Because of our species the panda population, as well as many other animal populations, have seen a dramatic decrease because of our exploitation of the Earth's natural resources. Therefore, we are all responsible for the prevention of wildlife extinction as well as the preservation of these species.


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