Activity 3 Giant Panda Landscape Activity

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1 Activity 3 Giant Panda Landscape Activity Objective & Overview: Students will juggle land-use planning issues relating to giant pandas and their interdependence with bamboo and other habitat characteristics, in the process learning about habitat fragmentation and other threats to giant pandas and other wildlife. Teacher Background Information: This activity deals with many issues relating to conservation biology-- an integrative approach to wildlife protection that embraces biology, genetics, ecology, social issues, economics, landscape planning, and other fields. The goal is not only to save wildlife in parks, but across landscapes. Parks alone cannot keep natural systems intact because wildlife reacts to changes across landscapes. Human actions affect wildlife both inside and out of parks, as this activity demonstrates. To start, here is some background on why giant pandas are rare, how recently they came into the limelight, and what's being done to save them in the wild. When did people outside of China learn about giant pandas? You might be surprised to learn that despite their current popularity, giant pandas were a fairly recent "discovery" for people living outside of China. The first Westerner to describe the animal was probably French missionary and naturalist Père Armand David, who, while in Friends of the National Zoo Page 22

2 China, described a panda skin in his journal in 1869 and later sent several to a Paris museum. In 1916, German zoologist Hugo Weigold became the first Westerner to see a live giant panda a cub he bought while on an expedition. Why are giant pandas rare in the wild? Once far more widespread but still probably rare both in lowland and highland areas over much of eastern and central China, giant pandas are now endangered with extinction due to the following factors: habitat destruction the greatest threat, due to China's growing population, cities, farms, and timber industry. habitat fragmentation as remaining habitat is carved up, giant pandas stuck in smaller forest patches face a greater threat of extinction. One threat is that giant pandas become cut off from other supplies of bamboo. Bamboos found within the giant panda's range usually die off every 30 to 80 years. Without access to new feeding areas, giant pandas may starve. poaching although penalties for killing giant pandas are severe in China, some are still killed for their pelts, which command a high price on the black market. slow reproduction giant pandas breed slowly and cannot quickly replenish depleted populations. trapping traps set to catch musk deer and other animals sometimes catch giant pandas instead. Friends of the National Zoo Page 23

3 Many or all of these factors affect each giant panda population. Enforcing laws to protect giant pandas is a challenge for conservationists and it usually requires the cooperation of local communities, some of which may be more receptive to panda conservation plans than others. What is being done in China to save giant panda habitat? The giant panda is a protected species in China. It receives the highest degree of protection afforded an animal, and penalties are severe for its capture or killing. Since 1963, 33 giant panda reserves have been set aside to protect these endangered animals and their habitat. China has also set up panda breeding centers and drawn up an official National Plan for the Conservation of Giant Pandas and Their Habitats. The Chinese government aims to double the size of reserve acreage, link reserves via corridors of natural habitat, and relocate farms when necessary in order to create connected habitats. National Zoo scientists work closely with Chinese scientists and conservationists on their ongoing efforts to learn more about, protect, and improve the situation for giant pandas. What is the National Zoo doing to help? The National Zoo has embarked upon a ten-year research and training plan that aims to ensure the giant panda's survival both in zoos and in the wild. Zoo scientists help train Chinese scientists in panda research and medical and conservation practices geared toward protecting giant pandas and their habitat. Meanwhile, at the Zoo, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang are the "Washington ambassadors," Friends of the National Zoo Page 24

4 helping zoo staff and the public to better understand the mysterious giant panda. All hope that they will mate and help the National Zoo become a satellite panda breeding center. Each year for ten years, the National Zoo will contribute $1 million to the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This money will support giant panda reserve conservation projects in China. Meanwhile, panda research and education programs will be ongoing at the National Zoo. Materials: Pencil or pen Panda Conservation Landscape Planning Sheet Panda Conservation Economics List Directions: 1. Explain to your students that they will play the role of land planners, juggling the needs of local people with those of local wildlife. This exercise, like modern conservation biology, fuses economics with agriculture, ecology, and city planning. Set the stage by explaining that the students will draw up a land-use plan for the area that takes into account the following: human population growth the effects of roads on wildlife habitat fragmentation Friends of the National Zoo Page 25

5 the periodic die-offs of local bamboo species upon which pandas depend the need for wildlife corridors that link vital habitats. 2. Hand out the Landscape Planning Sheet and Economics List. Explain that each student will need to make her or his own assessment of the situation and propose wise decisions based on the provided budget. Their challenge is to come up with a oneyear budget for the area that will address future growth and current conservation needs. The conservation goal: to ensure that 23 giant pandas remain in the area or that, better yet, the giant panda population grows. To do this, they will need to assemble a proposal with the following components: Cover Page Budget (drawn up from Economics List with limit of $1 million) Filled-out planning sheet, drawing in proposed projects and projected human population growth of 20 units Five-page proposal that starts with goal and then explains how each budget item will forward the goals. (See below for five areas they need to summarize.) Encourage your students to look for sensible options but not to be afraid to think "out of the box." For example, some students might suggest destroying some wildlife habitat to protect other areas. At least five areas should be addressed to which students should dedicate a page each in their proposals: Friends of the National Zoo Page 26

6 Human population growth and its cost. The three towns on the Landscape Planning Sheet will grow by a total of 20 population units (squares). Each population unit takes $20,000 out of the panda budget for human services and infrastructure (a line item of $400,000 shown on the Economics List). Students need to draw these new units on the map and discuss how they might affect nearby panda areas and projects. Roads and wildlife. The road that links the three towns cuts between panda habitats. What will the students do to help pandas cross the road? Will they apportion some money towards road underpasses to help pandas or is it more important to buy nearby areas to link habitats as corridors? Wildlife corridors. If not linked, the areas with single males and females will soon lose their pandas, which cannot find mates with which to breed. Also, those areas with just one bamboo species will leave the giant pandas without food when the bamboo flowers and dies. (Habitats with two bamboo species provide better insurance.) So, if your students choose to allocate money away from these areas, they are investing in other areas and realizing that they must lose some pandas to save other pandas in more viable populations. Agricultural areas. The isolated islands of panda habitat are separated by large "seas" of farmland. Do your students have Friends of the National Zoo Page 27

7 any proposals for working with farmers to make their properties more habitable to pandas and other wildlife? Outlook for local pandas given current budget and landscape use. In this section, students can put it all together, summarizing their thoughts and proposing future action and adjustments. Many difficult decisions must be made, and "rights" and "wrongs" can blur. In this sense, this activity mimics real life. Students should be graded on the effort they put into the project and for their clear explanations, attempts to solve difficult issues, and fresh ideas about saving pandas in the area. 3. Discuss this exercise with your students. The idea is that plans and proposals reflect real life, where money is finite, short-term needs must be met, but proactive efforts can set a stable course for the future. Without planning, many things fall by the wayside. Stress that the exercise is fictional but based on realistic situations. For instance, the $ numbers were not real and while roadside underpasses have been built for Florida panthers, Florida black bears, Iberian lynx, and other animals, they have yet to be constructed for giant pandas. From here, you can discuss other conservation situations that also call for careful planning. Here are a few examples: Friends of the National Zoo Page 28

8 underpasses are vital for salamanders, toads, and frogs that breed in localized ponds and disperse afterward to spend the rest of the year elsewhere roads cutting through habitats soon bring with them more people, buildings, exotic animals (such as house cats), pollution, and other factors that can dramatically change wild landscapes, as well as leading to many animal road kills compact development of houses or towns keeps more of the landscape open as green space. Sprawling suburbs or cities, aside from swallowing up farmland and habitat, also eventually cause road problems such as traffic snarls and larger roads (more $). A discussion of the merits of mass transport and compact development can start here. The sprawling, congested Washington, D.C. area, like so many other traffic-plagued metropolitan centers, can take center stage in such discussions. Friends of the National Zoo Page 29

9 Friends of the National Zoo Page 30

10 Giant Panda Conservation Economics List (Use this as a basis to draw up your budget) Total allowed budget $1,000,000 Town/road compensation for pop. Growth $400,000 (20 units at $20,000 each) (distribute these and draw as tiny boxes among the three towns in a way that least impacts nearby panda areas) Panda roadway underpass (one) $50,000 (if buy, draw location on planning sheet) Property rights/protecting one wildlife corridor $250,000 (if buy, draw corridor--narrow line between two reserves) Buying a new reserve (home to six pandas) $1,000,000 (draw on map if buy) Selling small reserve with no pandas -$500,000 Selling small reserve w/two pandas -$470,000 ($30,000 cost of relocating panda out of area included) (You may not sell larger panda reserves) Friends of the National Zoo Page 31

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