Pandas have been on the endangered animal list for decades, but despite our best efforts, breeding them back into healthy population numbers has proven to be an arduous and complex task. But the recent addition of seven newly born pandas in China is giving conservationists some hope for the species’ future.
The Chengdu Panda Base is a Chinese nonprofit dedicated to the study and conservation of its country’s most celebrated indigenous animal. It’s maintained a panda population of just over 100 until recently. According to ABC News, just this week, Chengdu announced that it successfully bred seven new panda cubs in the last three months. An eighth, named Oreo, is slightly older, having been born during the opening of the London Olympics.
The successful breeding of this many cubs is a huge coup. Currently, organizations like the World Wildlife Federation estimate that the worldwide panda population hovers somewhere around 1,600, and that includes those in captivity and in the wild.
The panda population first saw its numbers dwindle because of poachers in the 1960s, but because of stricter laws and greater awareness, poachers don’t normally target the animals, though they do kill them accidentally while in the process of hunting others.
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Still, the greatest threat to pandas remains human encroachment on their natural habitat in China. Pandas flourish in the Yangtze Basin, a bamboo forest that’s also become a center of commerce and transportation that cuts right through the animals’ once-peaceful home. The intersecting of roads and railroad tracks has isolated segments of the panda population and prevented breeding among them.
But even in captivity, breeding isn’t easy. According to Discovery News, female pandas are receptive to it for a remarkably limited amount of time― about 1-3 days per year. And many give birth to just one cub in their lifetime.
Nonetheless, conservation groups have also learned to adapt with procedures like artificial insemination and measures taken to ensure the animals do not become too used to human handling. Not only is sustaining the panda population an act of mercy and compassion towards the animals themselves, it’s a gesture of kindness towards our planet. Pandas are crucial to the bamboo forests where they live. These rarest of the bear species facilitate the growth of vegetation and spread seeds, remaining a vital, if underrepresented, part of China’s natural ecosystem.
In light of all that, it’s easy to appreciate why the birth of so many healthy cubs at once is so widely celebrated (aside from their remarkable cuteness.) Concerted efforts by dedicated conservationists like those at Chengdu are really what keeps these beautiful creatures from disappearing altogether.
Are you concerned about the extinction of certain species, or are you of the mindset that it's simply evolution? Let us know in the Comments.
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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com