The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species, and has long been a focus of the conservation movement. It's believed only about 1600 pandas remain in the world, and most of these live in small, isolated groups throughout southern China. Panda conservation includes various strategies to educate people about this endangered species, and to encourage laws and standards aimed at protecting pandas.
One of the biggest threats to the giant panda is the loss of the animal's natural habitat in southern China. The mountainous regions where pandas have quietly lived for centuries are being decimated by human development. Housing and infrastructure changes have destroyed the bamboo that these pandas eat, and put them so close to humans that they are having difficulty surviving. Many panda conservation strategies focus on preserving the panda's natural habitat so it can continue to thrive in the wild.
As part of a national panda conservation effort, the Chinese government has designated large areas of land as panda reserves. These protected lands cannot be used for building or development. Instead, they are reserved for wildlife, including the panda, to live in the wild and breed. Trees cannot be cut down and the land cannot be disturbed, which allows the panda to live in safety and without distress.
Other panda conservation efforts are focused on anti-poaching laws. This means discouraging poachers from killing pandas for trade or financial reasons. Anti-poaching laws may make it a criminal offense to kill a panda, or simply to buy or sell panda skins and other products derived from this endangered animal. International trade laws ban the import or export of poached pandas in an effort to stem the impact of poaching.
Planned breeding programs also are an important panda conservation strategy. Zoos and environmental agencies keep pandas in captivity and encourage them to breed. Others release captive pandas into the wild to encourage the natural breeding process. Outbreeding efforts are focused on taking pandas from one location and encouraging them to breed with members of other groups in an effort to prevent inbreeding and maximize lifespan.
Panda conservation also requires educational efforts to teach the public about the panda and its endangered status. Educational efforts help to draw attention to this cause, and may lead to greater fund raising abilities for panda conservation groups. Teaching people about the plight of the panda also helps to encourage the public to demand government funding and regulation that can help protect the panda population.