Caixin
Mar 09, 2018 06:56 PM
ENVIRONMENT

China to Spend $1.6 Billion on Giant Panda Sanctuary

Giants pandas eat bamboo together at the panda breeding research center in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province. Photo: VCG
Giants pandas eat bamboo together at the panda breeding research center in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province. Photo: VCG

The government in southwest China’s Sichuan province has borrowed 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) from a local bank to create a giant panda habitat three times the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.

Part of the money will go into rehabilitating damaged habitats of the endangered animal, while the rest will be spent on relocating thousands of villagers affected by the project, according to an official in a preparatory committee overseeing the site.

The ambitious plan to create a national park for China’s treasured animal, spanning 27,000 square kilometers (10,425 square miles), was announced by the country’s cabinet, the State Council, in January 2017.

This project would connect clusters of increasingly isolated panda habitats, scattered among seven cities in Sichuan, including the provincial capital Chengdu and Yaan, as well as parts of the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu.

In September, a team of researchers said the black and white bear remains endangered as their habitats continue to be threatened by road construction and commercial logging. This came after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded its protection status for the animal from “endangered” to “vulnerable” in 2016.

Pandas are particularly threatened by habitat fragmentation because it limits their ability to look for mates among peers living in other habitats, scientists warned.

Large swaths of land have been earmarked as core areas of the national park, which would only be accessible to scientists. Sichuan alone needs to relocate 6,700 residents from villages from these protected zones, the official from the preparatory committee said.

A portion of the funds will also be used to rehabilitate areas inside the park, which were damaged by commercial logging, development of hydropower plants and mining in the past, another official who oversees eco-restoration work for the preparatory committee told Caixin.

Most residents from areas surrounding the park live in poverty. The provincial government plans to offer them cheap loans to help them switch to tourism or eco-friendly farming, rather than working in the logging or mining industries, according to the official.

The money for the project was raised through the Sichuan branch of Bank of China, one of China’s big four state banks. However, the provincial government didn’t say how it plans to repay the debt.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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