Conservation lessons from China’s Giant Panda Sanctuaries

A visit to the Giant Panda sanctuaries in China is akin, in a number of significant ways, to foreigners visiting the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

Whereas the Maasai Mara has been named the Seventh Wonder of the World, the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites of natural properties.

The sanctuaries are, to some degree  ‘a living museum’, where you will find, apart from the giant pandas, golden monkeys, antelopes and other rare animals as well as more than  10,000 species of flora, this being a world-renowned biodiversity area.

The sanctuaries offer some of the most awe-inspiring sights on earth and a trip to witness this magnificence is an unforgettable experience.

The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries are located in southwest Sichuan Province, China. They are home to more than 30% of the world’s pandas, which have been classified as highly endangered. The area covers 924,500ha and boasts seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains. The sanctuaries constitute the largest remaining adjacent habitats of the rare giant panda and are a relic from the paleo-tropic forests of the Tertiary Era, which makes them historic objects.

Previous IUCN evaluations have noted the potential to meet Natural World Heritage criteria, citing the earth’s history and geological features with its superlative natural beauty and aesthetic importance to biodiversity and threatened species.

The sanctuaries are home to other globally-endangered animals, such as the red panda, the snow leopard and clouded leopard. They are among the botanically richest sites of any region in the world outside the tropical rainforests, with between 5,000 and 6,000 species of flora in over 1,000 genera.

The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries are principally renowned for their importance for the conservation of the giant panda and recognized as a ‘National Treasure’ in China as well as a flagship of global conservation efforts.

The property is the largest and most significant remaining adjacent areas of panda habitat and the richest sites of any temperate region in China and the world. Underlining the outstanding value is that it protects a wide variety of topography, geology, and plant and animal species. The property has exceptional value for biodiversity conservation and can demonstrate how ecosystem management systems can work across the borders of national and provincial protected areas.

The range of landforms within the sanctuaries contributes greatly to its high scenic value. There are 20 special scenic areas within the property, each possessing its own unique features. These include steep forested valleys, scenic rivers, rocky crags, wide alpine meadows and the mountain peaks of Siguniang Mountain. The area is vast and breathtaking, covering a total expanse of 9,245 square kilometers in 12 counties and four cities and prefectures. These are Chengdu, Ya’an, Aba and Garze.

The Giant Pandas themselves are the most lovable creatures on earth. They have a simple, rather naive look and seeing them automatically translates to loving them. They have small black ears, a big head, a round face and the famous ‘black eye patches’. Its body is covered with fur, which looks like a black and white coat. Giant Pandas mostly eat and rest and are not aggressive.

Because of their humility, they serve as an enduring symbol of peace and friendship in China. They are rare animals and considered as ‘living fossils’ native to China.

Panda tourism is big business in China, as more and more people are discovering this hidden paradise. Each year 800,000 people visit the country’s best-known centre at Chengdu, which is almost 2,000km southwest of Beijing. If you like your animals black, white and unabashedly cuddly, this is the place to be.

The Chengdu Railway Station has trains leading to more than 10 large cities in China, including Beijing and Shanghai. There are also regular scheduled bus services to the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries.

Chengdu is known as the panda capital of the world and is the obvious destination for panda lovers. It is where you will find Panda Base, an important conservation and breeding centre and a green oasis in the city, home to more than 90 of the black-and-white bears.

The city of Chengdu loves it pandas and there are homages to them everywhere you go, from taxis with pandas on their bonnets, to the 20ft tall silver statue in the city centre.

China’s success in bringing pandas back from the brink offers important lessons for other countries. The nation that saved the panda has arguably the best record of any developing country for protecting endangered animals, saving not just the panda but also stabilizing populations of Tibetan antelopes and black snub-nosed monkeys.

I would therefore recommend a visit to the Giant Panda Sanctuaries for the experience of a lifetime.

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