Trekking to See Wild Giant Pandas
It is an amazing experience to see an animal in its natural habitat; to see it behaving precisely how it was intended to. For giant panda lovers, it would be a dream come true to observe one feasting on bamboo or meandering through the forest. Many travel agencies and tour companies in China offer this experience. This type of expedition is known as “trekking”.
Travel Companies will take you trekking for the possibility to see a wild giant panda. There is no guarantee that you will get to see a giant panda at all. However, it is guaranteed that you will do more than just leave your footprint. Human presence disrupts the local ecosystem and is guaranteed to draw even more traffic to the area. This is a problem for all wildlife, but poses a serious threat to giant pandas.
The endangerment of the beloved giant panda is no secret. With approximately 1,864 Pandas left in the wild, the very existence of the species is being threatened. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the number one threat to giant pandas’ survival is habitat destruction. Though all types of habitats are subject to destruction from natural processes and disasters, humans are the biggest culprit. The need for expansion paired with the constant disregard for the lives of the creatures that may already inhabit an area cause continual loss of habitats. This wreaks havoc on a species’ conservation status, and their very survival. Habitat destruction not only decreases the pandas’ home range, but also destroys its food source as well. A giant panda’s diet is composed almost entirely of bamboo (99%), and they spend over half of their day eating.
Most of the travel agencies claim that the treks are “eco-friendly” and that they do not do any damage to the pandas’ habitat or leave traces of human invasion. In his book, Patterns of China’s Lost Harmony, geographer, Richard Louis Edmonds quotes a Chinese source that states otherwise: “[E]ven in the rugged parts of China, in areas that look like untouched wilderness, subtle evidences of the human presence occur.” We humans cannot go unnoticed. Anytime people enter into “untouched wilderness”, we disturb the ecosystem of that area.
We have not only disturbed ecosystems, we have destroyed them altogether. Historically, the giant pandas’ home range covered most of southern and eastern China. Fossil evidence indicates that it may have even stretched as far north as Beijing, and south into northern Myanmar and Vietnam. Over time, cultivation of the lower, flatter habitats has caused the home range to shrink dramatically. Their home range is now confined to portions of six isolated mountain ranges in south-central China. About 75% of the population is in the Sichuan Province. This once thriving species now finds itself in danger of survival as its home is literally stripped away.
Trekking is the beginning of human traffic to an area, and the beginning of destruction. The giant pandas’ habitat is already under enough stress from humans. Panda lovers need to be careful that they are not aiding to that stress only to fulfill their own dream of seeing one in the wild. If we are not careful to take every precaution in saving these magnificent creatures, one day, we may lose them altogether.
Please visit one of the Panda Reserves or a Zoo with pandas if you want to see a panda- Thank you.Paper prepared by Colleen Lawrence Zoo & Wildlife Biology African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton, OH