China’s new Giant Panda National Park, which will be completed in the fall of this year, will span 10,476 square miles and be nearly triple the area of Yellowstone. The land is mostly situated within the Sichuan Province, which is home to over 80 percent of the world’s wild panda population. It will consist of dozens of already established panda reserves and other protected areas containing thousands of endangered plants and animals.

Pandas have been severely threatened by human encroachment, including logging, road construction, and agriculture, and they’re largely confined to six mountain ranges across western China. This new massive refuge aims to bring together the disparate panda communities, as connectivity is viewed as one of the keys to their survival. Since this park will blend together a variety of wild landscapes, it is intended to improve the pandas’ ability to find mates, increase genetic diversity, and give them room to roam.

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According to Marc Brody, President of the US-China Environmental Fund, the park is a vital first step, but the panda habitat will remain fragmented until “degraded lands are restored and stronger land-use restrictions get enforced that make wildlife corridors possible.” Indeed, this park is focusing on habitat-building, rather than simply targeting the animals themselves, which is an important shift in strategy.

The panda park is part of a broader Chinese effort to create a national park system in the country, modeled on the US national parks system. Delegations from China even visited many US parks for inspiration as they entered the planning stages. Bob Tansey, policy advisor on China for The Nature Conservancy, said, “There’s greater prosperity in China now, and there’s a natural progression toward conservation. A park system’s time has come.”

H/T: National Geographic

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