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Panda conservation is worth billions of dollars a year

A new study looked at pandas and their reserves, and compared them in 1980 to today.

Image: AP/PA Images

PANDA CONSERVATION IS often criticised because of the associated cost, but a new analysis says that it is actually worth billions of dollars.

The analysis, reported in Current Biology on June 28 shows that panda conservation has a value that goes beyond protection of pandas themselves.

The new findings say that the panda’s protection as an umbrella species yields 10 to 27 times as much value as it costs to maintain the current reserves. They also suggest it might be worth expanding those panda reserves and other investments.

China rents pandas to other countries at a cost of about $1 million a panda, and the research is Chinese-based. “Many detractors have argued that spending valuable resources on panda conservation is wasteful,” says Fuwen Wei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Our analysis contradicts this view and demonstrates clearly the great value of the panda, both for its cultural and intrinsic value and for the ecosystem services provided by panda reserves.

Between 1990 and 2010, China’s National Conservation Project for the Giant Panda and Its Habitat (NCPGPH) doubled panda habitat.

And by 2010, a total of 67 panda reserves with an area of more than 33,000 km2 had been established, which covered more than half of suitable panda habitat.

What’s it worth?

The new study questioned what was that worth. Wei and colleagues used the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services framework.

Ecosystem services include three parts: provisioning services, regulatory services, and culture.

According to the study, panda reserves offer a variety of provisioning services that are valued by local people – these include growing crops, grazing animals, procuring water supplies, and harvesting firewood and useful plants.

The regulatory services include the benefits of managing precipitated water runoff, sediment retention, carbon sequestration, nutrient retention, and more.

The researchers reviewed each of the regulating, provisioning, and cultural services associated with panda reserves, and collated estimates of the value of each from numerous studies.

Then, they converted those estimates to US dollars and used the median value for each to generate a combined estimate of the annual per-hectare value of panda reserves.

Through this, they found a median estimate of US$632 per hectare per year.

Next, they multiplied that per hectare per year value by estimates of forest area within the 67 panda reserves – and came to a value of US$562 million per year in 1980.

By 2010, the value of ecosystem services of the panda and its reserves had increased to somewhere between US$2.6 and US$6.9 billion per year.

“Now, we know that the system of reserves and protections [for pandas] are working to reverse the panda’s decline and that these efforts have benefits for society and nature at large,” Wei says.

This should provide added motivation for people to continue backing panda conservation to bring about the eventual recovery of the species.

The researchers say that this news provides justification not just for efforts to preserve the panda, but for other endangered species as well.

However, this is not necessarily news that will be welcomed in all quarters, with some environmentalists and conservations – such as Chris Packham – being opposed to the conservation of pandas.

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