When we think of pandas, we typically think of a cute, cuddly, lazy bear that we want to hold or play with. Structurally, pandas tend to slouch over while eating their food, waddle around when playing with others, and scamper up trees when they take their long naps. Just looking at a panda with their stubby legs, round cheeks, and smiling faces makes us want to give one a hug. Indeed they are adorable, and after learning about them and watching them all day, we have fallen madly in love with them (well, I have. Sam has always been in love with them as proven by the 300+ panda stuffed animals throughout her room). Everyday that we work at the panda base, we watch in amazement as these animals live their lives by eating and sleeping all day, with an occasional play date with another cub or mom. More than once, Sam and I have caught ourselves wishing we could be pandas. Apparently we aren’t the only ones. In fact, at one point during our internship, a man walked up to us and asked for an application. When we inquired further about the type of job he was searching for at the Panda Base, he simply stated, “I want to be a panda.” Indeed, it seems to be the perfect life.
Pandas have been in existence in China for 8 million years, but recently, because of human overpopulation, loss of habitat and fragmentation, pollution, new diseases being introduced, and global climate change, pandas are in danger of becoming extinct. Currently, there are less than 2000 total pandas in the wild and captivity. In captivity, around 240 exist worldwide, all owned by China, with the exception of 2 owned by Mexico. Wild pandas typically live in higher altitude areas, and they prefer a wet, cold, green area to reside in. Those in the wild all inhabit small area pockets within the Sichuan province in China, but within these pockets, some 3 million people reside. China is a beautiful country, but a significant population problem exists throughout. Even with the one child law, the population continues to grow, causing cities to expand and decrease the pandas’ natural habitat as well as contaminate it with pollution. (Don’t worry, this isn’t only true for China… in fact, the U.S. and China are the two biggest leaders, and the two biggest destructors, of this planet). Though pandas tend to specifically live in high altitude areas, the human population is growing exponentially. As our cities tend to get more crowded, we feel it necessary to expand our habitats into the country and mountain sides. Unfortunately, this expansion is cutting into panda habitat, forcing their once large natural environment to decrease and now continuously move to higher and higher altitudes. Unfortunately, this is leaving them with nowhere left to go. Though poachers were once a problem for pandas (for their fur, not their meat), pandas are now a type I protected species, meaning they are so endangered that the government has stepped in to help save this national treasure. However, this means that the continuation of the decline in the panda population is solely based on human consumption. In fact, pandas have no natural enemies in the wild. Also diseases such as rabies and K-9 disstemper have recently been introduced to wild animals.
Many other species share a habitat with pandas and are also in danger of extinction or are vulnerable because of the same issues that pandas face. Red pandas, golden monkeys, the Sichuan takin, Asiatic black bears, and snow lepards are among other species at risk for extinction. Because pandas are so loved world wide, using this animal to gain attention to these important issues is vital to their existence, and the many species listed above. As we (humans) are the main cause of their extinction, we need to become more aware of our actions and how we are affecting wildlife around the world.
So what can we do to improve the lives of these wonderful creatures? Well, the first step is to get educated. Understand what is happening to these animals and share the knowledge learned to family and friends. The more people who are aware of these issues the better. Rather than having the mentality of animals needing to coexist with humans, we need to learn to change and improve our behaviors to coexist with them in their natural habitat, rather than slowly, but surely, destroying what was rightfully theirs in the first place. We also need to make sure we are living lightly on this earth. Everything that we do impacts the earth in some way. By living lightly, recycling, and reusing, we can help make less of a negative impact on the environment, decrease our carbon footprint, and help rehabilitate the world. These aren’t just suggestions or trends, they are absolute necessities. We are the catalyst for the next catastrophic event, or mass extinction. Dinosaurs were destroyed by meteors and volcanoes. Pandas and other precious species (yes, that includes all you humans out there) will be destroyed by us.
Keep these ideas in mind the next time you throw that plastic water bottle away in the trash or buy 5 pairs of shoes that you know you will only wear once. By understanding our role in protecting our environment, together we can actually improve the lives of those cute and cuddly pandas so the next generation will be able to enjoy their presence as much as we do.
Until next time…
Kelsey (Ke Xi) and Sam (Shan)