It’s no secret that environmental encroachment is the single biggest challenge facing the survival of the wild Giant Panda. Because bamboo is nutritionally poor, pandas consume an average 9 to 14 kilograms of bamboo daily. They roam vast swathes of mountainous terrain constantly in search of fresh bamboo shoots, and don’t hibernate because they can’t build up the fat reserves to go to sleep for months at a time. Wild Pandas live solitary, nomadic lives. They seldom see other pandas, except during their short mating season in late March and early April. In the wild, they communicate with other pandas by scent.
A common controversy across the world in sustainable tourism is that tourism to a protected area invariably degrades the environment–through new footprints in virgin forest, noise, and the bit of trash that escapes being packed out by guides or locals. At the same time, tourism leads to an appreciation of the beautiful variety of lifestyles and natural wonders in different parts of the world. This appreciation creates an awareness that humanity must protect the wonderful diversity of the world.
The wild panda is a case in point of this push and pull. In a far-sighted nod to conservation, the Chinese government began establishing wild panda reserves in the early 1960s. By 2005, the government has established 50 panda reserves, protecting 2.5 million acres and 60% of the remaining population of wild panda.
It is possible to track wild pandas in certain reserves, but the opening of the reserves to tourism come with the imperative to maintain the reserve’s pristine state and to encourage preservation of the wild panda. The solution is to limit tourism numbers to avoid environmental degradation of the reserves and to attract travelers who have the commitment and means to be avid proponents in favor of the preservation of China’s iconic animal, the wild panda.