Astonishing new images of a giant panda consuming the carcass of a takin in northern Sichuan’s Pingwu County are a providing a breakthrough for science and conservation.
Pandas were originally carnivores that have undergone a peculiar evolution into eating primarily bamboo leaves. Though they have been known to occasionally consume meat, there has never been photographic evidence of such behavior from the elusive wild panda until now.
Motion sensor cameras set up this summer in the soon-to-be established Motianling Land Trust Reserve in Sichuan by The Nature Conservancy, Peking University and local government partners to assess and monitor wildlife in the reserve are already providing a number of invaluable images of the region’s incredible wildlife. The latest includes nearly 600 images of a large adult panda right in front of the camera gnawing the carcass of a recently deceased takin, a goat-antelope species endemic to the region that is also endangered.
Scientists that later examined the carcass learned that the takin had died of natural causes just a few days before being discovered by the panda in the early morning hours of November 9. Shao Liangkun, the reserve staff member that retrieved the images confirmed, “these are some of China’s first images of a wild panda eating meat,” pointing out that this is evidence of the panda still retaining some of its most primeval evolutionary traits.
There are thought to be less that 2000 pandas still living in the wild, a dangerously low number, scattered between segmented habitat in the mountains of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces, with many living outside the protection of nature reserves. A national “panda census” to better understand the status of pandas in the wild will be conducted in 2012, beginning in Pingwu County where a large number are thought to exist.
Motianling Land Trust Reserve is also a breakthrough for China. In a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and the local government, the reserve will soon be the first in China to be privately funded and managed, seeking to resolve one of the greatest challenges hindering effective conservation in China’s nature reserve system: a lack of sufficient funding. This innovative new model for protecting land in China will provide a crucial refuge for important species, like the giant panda, and will help create livelihood opportunities for local people.
The motion sensor cameras are proving that there is a wealth of wildlife to protect at Motianling including Sichuan golden monkeys, takin, pandas, and golden pheasants – all nationally protected endangered species. As the Motianling project lead for The Nature Conserancy, Zhao Peng, notes “though we are learning more and more about pandas and the other wildlife here, these images show that there is still so much we don’t know about their behavior. They really are an incredible species.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Associate Director of Media Relations