A panda looks into the distance at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. (Photo: Li Hao/GT)
Mountain residents will be relocated to make room for giant pandas
○ Southwest China's Sichuan Province launches cooperation program to build a giant panda national park to better protect pandas.
○ The program includes financial assistance, charity, disaster relief, community education, tourism development and ecological construction, and also aims to help poverty-stuck residents living in the area.
○ Experts disagree over to what extent the national park should develop tourism to boost economy.
China is enhancing the charm of pandas on its poverty alleviation mission by building a national park for giant pandas in Southwest and Northwest areas where many local residents have lower living standards.
Southwest China's Sichuan Province recently launched a cooperation program to build the Giant Panda National Park and signed papers with 19 county-level governments and areas in Sichuan, Northwest China's Shaanxi and Gansu provinces at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (CRBGPB), according to the Forestry Department of Sichuan Province.
The move for setting up the giant panda national park spanning three provinces aims to help the endangered animals migrate around and strengthen their gene pool, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Meanwhile, as most of the areas included in the park in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi are mountainous and where residents live a poor life, the giant panda national park will also serve as an opportunity for local governments' poverty reduction work.
The park, which was first approved in 2016, will cover 27,134 square kilometers, three times the area of Yellowstone National Park in the US.
The program, which includes financial assistance, charity foundation, disaster relief, community education, tourism development and ecological construction, will focus on building and protecting China's first giant panda park and help poverty-stuck residents living in the area.
The Sichuan branch of Bank of China plans to offer a loan of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) to help poor people living in areas included in the planned national park. The fund, to be used in a variety of poverty alleviation projects, will be offered between 2018 and 2023.
Qumu Shiha, head of a working group for building the national park, was cited by a release from the Forestry Department of Sichuan Province as saying that it is a big step to promote the building of the national park for accomplishing the poverty alleviation job in areas included in the park.
"It is also a practical move to implement targeted poverty reduction… to meet with the requirement of building a moderately well-off society in an all-round way," he said.
Qumu also said that "inking papers of the program would help mobilize the effort of the whole society into the protection of giant pandas, promote the harmony between nature and human being, explore the new model to combine environmental protection, financing, poverty reduction and charity career together. [These efforts] would help to build the giant panda national park a model for ecological development and social development globally."
Pandas are not only loved by Chinese, they have a lot of fans overseas. According to a survey on China's overseas influence, pandas have topped the list. As the environment for pandas grows increasingly complicated, China has always paid attention to the protection work of pandas, including launching projects on protecting their habitats.
Giant pandas are now scattered in six mountainous areas and are divided into 33 isolated groups in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. Their living habitats are disturbed by large-scale human activities including mining, hydro-power, tourism and infrastructure construction, Fan Zhiyong, senior director from Science, Policy and Innovation Center of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told the Global Times.
Fan said that the isolated groups would affect genetic diversity and that habitat fragmentation - the separation of wildlife population by physical barriers - is increasingly noticeable with many individual pandas facing higher risks to their survival.
An anonymous source from China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda told the Global Times that the number of wild pandas in China is 1,864, and the number for captive breeding is 520. "Most of the wild pandas are living in remote mountainous areas 2,000 meters above the sea level," she said.