Hope that the giant panda will not slide into extinction has been revived by a new study issued today by scientists from Cardiff University. The giant panda is not at an "evolutionary dead end" and could have a long term viable future, the new study finds
One of the world's great charismatic species, giant pandas attract intense interest from the public in zoos and in the wild. An estimated 1,600 pandas remain in the wild.
But previous studies have found that the giant panda's isolation, unusual dietary requirements and slow reproductive rates have led to a lack of genetic diversity that will inevitably lead the species to extinction.
Now a study has found that the decline of the species can be linked directly to human activities rather than a genetic inability to adapt and evolve.
"Our research challenges the hypothesis that giant pandas are at an evolutionary dead end," said Professor Bruford. "It is however clear that the species has suffered demographically at the hands of human activities such as deforestation and poaching."
Giant pandas live in southwestern China and have the most restricted distribution of all bears. Their habitat is limited to bamboo thickets in mountainous regions between altitudes of 1,200 and 3,500 meters. Ninety-nine percent of a panda's diet is made up of 30 species of bamboo.
Once hunted for their fur, meat and body parts, giant pandas are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List and are listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, on Appendix I
"Our research suggests we have to revise our thinking about the evolutionary prospects for the giant panda," said Professor Bruford. "The species has a viable future and possesses the genetic capacity to adapt to new circumstances."
Conservation efforts should be directed towards habitat restoration and protection, Bruford advises, saying, "In their natural environment, the giant panda is a species that can have a bright future."