Earthquake devastates giant panda habitat, Chinese forestry officials says

BEIJING — A Chinese forestry official said Tuesday that giant panda habitat in China’s Sichuan province, the endangered animal’s main preserve, was devastated by last month’s massive earthquake.

The world-renowned Wolong Nature Reserve and 48 others created in the province to protect the pandas and other endangered species were damaged by the quake, said Cao Qingyao, a spokesman for the State Forestry Administration.

He said about 80 percent of Sichuan panda habitat suffered some degree of damage from the quake, which sent rocks, soil and vegetation crashing into river valleys.

Losses to the wild population remained unknown, he said.

“We still cannot reach some of the local habitats, so it’s impossible to assess the exact losses,” Cao told reporters in Beijing.

The endangered panda is revered as a kind of unofficial national symbol in China, the only country in which pandas are found in the wild. About 1,600 of the animals live deep in steep bamboo-covered mountains mostly in Sichuan and the neighboring province of Shaanxi. Another 180 have been bred in captivity.

Wolong, which used to house 64 pandas, suffered heavy damage, with one panda killed and another still missing. The center remains closed to visitors, and might not open again until next year. Six pandas have been sent to another reserve in Sichuan, and eight have been sent to Beijing for an Olympics stay at the Beijing Zoo that was planned before the quake.

David Wildt, a panda expert who is chief scientist at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., said photographs showed severe damage to the animal’s range, but called Cao’s 80 percent damage figure a “guesstimate.” The only way of knowing the full effect would be to send teams into the largely inaccessible area to check, he said.

“A high priority would be to get field scientists into those preserves to make an accurate assessment of damage to habitat,” Wildt said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Scientists at Wolong had said wild pandas’ innate survival sense would alert them to take refuge from quake-triggered landslides on high ground, but Wildt said that had not been scientifically proven.

“We really have no clue as to how any animal is going to respond in anticipation of an earthquake,” Wildt said.

Yu Jinping, director of China conservation and education at Zoo Atlanta, said it could take years to accurately estimate the damage done to the panda habitat in the quake zone.

“There’s no doubt the habitat has been heavily damaged,” said Yu. “But the transportation is so that it’s almost impossible to reach these remote areas right now, so it’s only a rough estimate.”

Yu said that most of the wild pandas are likely to survive because they can travel to find other sources of bamboo.

“Although some areas were destroyed by mudslides and rocks falling down, I think most of them will be OK,” Yu said.

The 7.9 magnitude quake killed almost 70,000 people and left 5 million homeless.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Cat killed, 9 people displaced after duplex fire in Everett

None of the people were injured in the fire reported around 1:15 a.m. in the 11500 block of Meridian Avenue S.

Brian Henrichs, left, and Emily Howe, right, begin sifting out the bugs from their bug trap along Port Susan on Monday, May 22, 2023 in Stanwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘A delta for the future’: Scientists try to save salmon at Stilly’s mouth

The Stillaguamish River’s south fork once supported 20,000 salmon. In 2019, fewer than 500 fish returned to spawn.

Mountlake Terrace Library, part of the Sno-Isle Libraries, in Mountlake Terrace, Washington on Thursday, June 1, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Sno-Isle workers cite safety, unfilled positions in union push

Workers also pointed to inconsistent policies and a lack of a say in decision-making. Leadership says they’ve been listening.

A view over the Port of Everett Marina looking toward the southern Whidbey Island fault zone in March 2021. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County agencies to simulate major disaster

The scenario will practice the response to an earthquake or tsunami. Dozens of agencies will work with pilots.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Mountlake Terrace eyes one-time projects for $2.4M in federal funds

Staff recommended $750,000 for a new roof and HVAC at the library, $250,000 toward the a nonprofit facility in Lynnwood and more.

Funko mascots Freddy Funko roll past on a conveyor belt in the Pop! Factory of the company's new flagship store on Aug. 18, 2017.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Lawsuit: Funko misled investors about Arizona move

A shareholder claims Funko’s decision to relocate its distribution center from Everett to Arizona was “disastrous.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (center) hosted a roundtable to discuss the fentanyl crisis Monday, June 5, 2023 in Everett, Washington. Cantwell was joined community leaders and those who have been personally impacted by the issue. (Photo provided by the office of Maria Cantwell)
Everett leaders cite jaw-dropping stats on fentanyl crisis

Sen. Maria Cantwell gathered those affected by the opioid crisis Monday to push for a unified response to soaring overdoses.

Dave "Bronco" Erickson stands next to the pink-and-purple 1991 Subaru Justy hatchback “Pork Chop Express” car that he is seeking to re-home for $500. The car has been on Whidbey Island for years, mainly as yard art. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
For sale: Whidbey’s fabled ‘Pork Chop Express’ gets great smileage

Asking price is $500 for the 1991 Subaru Justy, a three-cylinder econobox with 65K miles and a transmission as rare as hen’s teeth.

The Snohomish River turns along the edge of the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
To build a healthier Snohomish River, more log jams

About $2.8M in grants will help engineer log jams, tear down levees and promote salmon restoration at Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve.

Most Read