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Brief introduction of Wolong
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Wolong Panda Nature Reserve
Brief introduction of Wolong
The Wolong Nature Reserve sprawls over some 200,000 hectares and contains about 10% of the world¡®s wild panda population. Local people also live in the preserve. Researchers wanted to know just how well protected the pandas¡® habitat actually was. To do this, the scientists used remote sensing data and maps to determine what kinds of and how much habitats were located within the reserve. By comparing data collected prior to 1975 to data obtained after 1975 they were able to specifically quantify exactly how much habitat was highly suitable, suitable, marginally suitable, and unsuitable to pandas. By comparing panda habitat before and after the reserve was created, they could see whether panda habitat in the reserve really was well protected.

What they found was startling. Even within this so-called ¡°flagship.¡± protected area, all types of panda habitat declined significantly. Prior to protection, the reserve contained about 14,000 hectares of highly suitable habitat. By 1997, that number had dropped to below 12,000 hectares. What¡®s more, the area of unsuitable panda habitat increased from around 118,000 hectares to more than 133,000 hectares.

How is this possible? If an area is protected, then how can habitat quality be degraded? The researchers attribute the deterioration to a population increase of the reserve¡®s human inhabitants. They write, ¡°Local people in the reserve were the direct driving force behind the destruction of the forest and of panda habitat.¡± In 1975, when the reserve was created, there were 2560 people, while in 1995 there were 4260 people. And these people typically work as laborers who farm, collect fuelwood, harvest timber, build roads, and collect Chinese herbal medicines ¡ª all activities that can potentially impact forest habitat.

According to the report¡®s authors, the degraded and fragmented habitat in this ¡°flagship.¡± nature reserve is one reason why the number of resident wild pandas declined from 145 in 1974 to 72 in 1986. They suggest that, protecting natural areas to conserve endangered species may not be enough. Without sound understanding of how people interact with the environment, species within supposedly protected areas may still be at risk.