The giant panda is an icon of Chinese culture and a symbol for wildlife conservation efforts around the world. With an estimated 1,864 remaining in the wild and an additional 300 in captivity, it is one of the most vulnerable species on Earth. Giant pandas are native to only one region in western China near Chengdu, which is also one of the world’s fastest growing cities. Although urbanization and conservation are often in conflict with each other, the 69 square kilometer Chengdu Panda Reserve provides a framework for the protection of the giant panda and its native habitat within a growing city.
Founded in 1987, the Chengdu Panda Reserve was originally commissioned as a research center to advance efforts to breed pandas in captivity. Because of the scientific discoveries made at the reserve, the panda population born into captivity has increased, and the reserve has expanded beyond its initial research mission to include education and public outreach programs. The 2018 master plan for the future of the Chengdu Panda Reserve represents China's increasing transparency, collaboration, and communication of its pioneering strategies to protect the species. With over 20 million people expected to visit the Chengdu Panda Reserve each year—a figure that surpasses current annual visitors to Disneyland—the city has a tremendous responsibility to advance its development in a manner that is mindful of protecting the panda’s native habitat. The master plan illustrates a sustainable roadmap for the reserve that generates a win-win for ecology, economic growth, and tourism through an interwoven strategy of education, public outreach, and stewardship.
Pandas serve as an ‘umbrella species’ for other wildlife, indirectly benefiting multiple endemic and threatened species. The biological diversity found in the panda’s native habitat is extraordinarily high for a temperate ecosystem, containing over 5000 plant species, 365 bird species, and 109 mammal species. Designed habitats in the reserve’s expansion will provide visitors with a more in-depth and interactive experience not only with the Giant Panda, but also with as many as 70% of China’s forest birds, 70% of its mammals, and 31% of its amphibians.
The three disparate sites which comprise the Chengdu Panda Reserve are organized by their primary functions, as well as the level of human interaction and disturbance they allow. The first site, Longquanshan Panda Village, is located near Chengdu’s new international airport and provides an abbreviated glimpse into conservation efforts. This gateway into the city will feature an educational overview of the region’s history, culture, and wildlife, including the panda and its native habitat.
The second site, Beihu Panda Park, builds upon the existing “Panda Base” visitor experience by providing an urban education center to accommodate those seeking a more immersive experience. This urban destination, close to downtown and linked to the city by public transit, introduces the panda to the millions of people who come to Chengdu each year to experience them up close. Here, visitors can learn about the daily lives of pandas and their companion species, their shared habitat, and get a glimpse into ongoing research.
The third and most remote of the three sites that comprise the Chengdu Panda Reserve is the Dujiangyan Panda Wilderness. Primarily focusing on re-assimilation, this isolated area of the reserve is located in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. As one of the gateways into China’s newly established Giant Panda National Park, researchers will focus on pre-release training to acclimate juvenile pandas born in captivity prior to final release into the wild. Together, the three sites of the Chengdu Panda Reserve will create a more resilient future for the species through research, education, and conservation.
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