Director of Giant Pandas Blog

December 23, 2013 § Leave a comment


So it’s been a few weeks since our last giant panda update and I’d like to say happy 50th anniversary to Wolong Nature Reserve and happy 30th anniversary to Wolong Special Administrative Region.

Yang Guang

Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo

Wolong Nature Reserve is the most famous of all of giant panda reserves. The reserve was established 50 years ago, then 30 years ago was awarded special administrative status in China. Originally centrally controlled and managed in Beijing, at this point leadership moved to Sichaun and this local led style of management resulted in an even more effective management of the forest for the wildlife and people living in the reserve.

Prof Zhang Hemin, the Director of Wolong Nature Reserve, is also Director of the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas (CCRCGP), the organisation that runs the panda breeding centre in Wolong, Bifengxia and Dujiangyan City. Zhang Hemin therefore has and oversight and responsibility, not just for the pandas in the breeding centres, but also of the wild population of pandas in Wolong; this combined leadership results in a holistic programme of management of pandas in his care. Wild pandas benefit from knowledge gained during the captive population and captive pandas benefit from the wild population.

Wolong is actually part of the bigger Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an area three times the size of Yosemite National Park that contains around 30 percent of the total wild population of Giant Pandas. Please visit if you are interested in finding out more.

The celebrations for Wolong’s significant birthdays’ and milestones took place in Dujiangyan City back on the 10th November, with representatives from all over the world in attendance. Quite definitely and correctly, Wolong’s celebrations were led by local dignitaries and local people, who as well as looking at the past, had a clear view of the future direction of the reserve.

Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo

Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo

Of course too, the day could not pass without mention of the deadly Sichuan earthquake which struck the region on the 12th May 2008 and the impact it had for the people and wildlife in the area. An earthquake that in many ways the local area is still recovering from. Also known as the Wenchuan Earthquake, its epicentre was Wenchuan County, which Wolong is part of. Official figures for human casualties as of 21st July 2008 were stated as 69,197 confirmed dead, including 68,636 in the Sichuan province, and 374,176 injured, with 18,222 listed as missing. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, although the number could have been as high as 11 million.

In April 2008, one week prior to the earthquake, several of us from RZSS were at Wolong reserve and whilst there we visited Yingxiu, the last big town you drive through on route up and into Wolong Reserve. On my trip to China last month I purposely visited the town to see how it had recovered, as an incredible 80% had been destroyed in the earthquake, and to see the specially created memorial and museum dedicated to those that died. In that town alone, out of a population of 9,000 people, over 4000 lost their lives. The experience of revisiting the town was both moving and sobering, but also encouraging and uplifting to see the resilience of people in their efforts to rebuild their lives and community.

Of course with such an important reserve and an iconic species like the giant panda on their doorstep, it is little wonder that a large amount of the local economy is driven by panda “tourists”. Hopefully soon the number of visitors to the area will grow even further on completion of a brand new panda breeding centre in Gengda, in Wolong, as the centre at Hetaoping was completely destroyed in the earthquake.

Here is to the next 50 years of Wolong and its important work to protect Giant Pandas!

Best wishes,

Iain Valentine, Director of Giant Pandas

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