Giant pandas are getting more room to roam—a lot more! The Chinese government is finalizing plans for a national park that will place nearly 10,500 square miles under protection for the animals. That’s roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts!
Giant Panda National Park could be key to the species’ survival, scientists say. The animals once roamed much of East Asia. In the mid-1970s, they numbered about 2,500. A decade later, only about 1,110 pandas remained. Illegal hunting had killed many of them. In addition, logging and farming had wiped out much of the pandas’ main food source, bamboo. In response, China cracked down on poaching and set up reserves to protect the bamboo forests where pandas live. Since then, the population has rebounded to more than 1,800 pandas, but they mainly live in isolated clusters in western China.
Because the panda groups are separated from each other, many pandas struggle to find mates. That’s where the new park comes in. It will link dozens of existing reserves and habitats, improving pandas’ chances of breeding.
Pandas aren’t the only ones that will benefit, however. China wants to become a global power rivaling the U.S., and it sees the environment as an area where it can take the lead. The panda park will let China show off its green efforts on the world stage.