Entries in Conservationists (2)


New Panda Conservations Project Enlists Ex-NBA Star

China Photos/Getty Images(DUJIANGYAN, China) -- The Chinese city of Dujiangyan Wednesday hosted two of China’s most iconic treasures -- the Giant Panda and former NBA basketball player Yao Ming.

Yao Ming was chosen to inaugurate a new protected area called Panda Valley, which Chinese conservationists hope will provide select pandas the tools they need to assimilate back into the wild. It is the latest attempt to give the notoriously difficult-to-breed species a leg up. Six young pandas were selected for the “wildlife training.” They’ll continue to get food and water from human caretakers, but they’ll be gradually eased into independent living. At least, that’s what scientists hope.

Giant pandas are one of those animal species for whom humanity is both a curse and a blessing. Urban development has led to devastating habitat loss (pandas need literally tons of bamboo to feed). But the innate evolutionary disadvantages of pandas have been helped by human intervention, in the form of artificial insemination. They do have one critical advantage that may have kept them alive longer than nature intended.

Giant pandas are irresistibly adorable. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into their preservation. It costs a million dollars a year just for a foreign zoo to borrow one (all Giant Pandas are the official property of the Chinese government). And everywhere they go, they are the star attraction. When the famed Wolong Preserve was damaged in a 2008 earthquake, international attention quickly turned to the fate of the prized pandas.

So it is no surprise that $4.75 million has been invested so far in this latest pet project. Only six hand-selected, hearty young panda pioneers will be introduced initially to the enclosure, but researchers hope to expand those numbers. The goal is reportedly to eventually release 100 pandas into the wild over the next fifty years, after they’ve undergone survival training. According to the government-run China Daily, the pandas will be allowed to forage and feed freely in the enclosure. But it’s unclear how effective such a program will be.

Introducing captive-bred animals into the wild remains a holy grail to conservationists, but doing so is extremely difficult. With pandas in particular, the challenges loom large. Out of ten pandas that have been released into the wild since 1983, only two are still living in the wild. Six were brought back to the preserve for medical reasons, and two are believed to have died. It’s not yet clear how this reserve equips pandas better for the wild than the Wolong Preserve, which also offers pandas a semi-wild environment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Putin Wants to Save the Last 3,200 Tigers from Extinction

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- What has been hailed as the most significant meeting ever to discuss the fate of a single non-human species is under way in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. Conservationists and government officials from the 13 countries where tigers roam have gathered for a four-day "tiger summit" to commit to a plan for fighting the big cats' extinction, led by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Conservationists say because of poaching and deforestation, only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, less than the number in captivity in Texas. The tiger population is at an all-time low, down from around 100,000 a century ago. Of the remaining tigers, only 1,000 are breeding females, the key to the species' survival.

Tiger experts say that unless drastic measures are taken, tigers could soon be extinct. At the end of the summit, participants are expected to commit to doubling the tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger after 2010 in the Chinese zodiac.

To do that, the countries and conservation groups will commit an estimated $330 million, the bulk of which will come from the World Bank -- which has spearheaded the global tiger initiative -- and the 13 "tiger range" countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite not having wild tigers of its own, the United States has contributed millions to the preservation cause. There had been hopes that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would attend the forum (the undersecretary of state is representing the United States at the summit).

Russia and its tiger-loving prime minister have been applauded for their efforts to raise awareness and reverse the tigers' decline. Putin was given a tiger cub for his birthday in 2008, a month after he famously shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquillizer dart as part of a collaring program.

"The complexity in saving the tiger is not great, but the scale of the challenge is," said Wildlife Conservation's Society's Walston. "If we do the basics right, if we support the men and women on the ground to prevent poaching of tigers, then we're going to allow tigers to do what they do naturally, which is to breed and recover."

Putin and the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will address the conference Tuesday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio