Slideshow Description: The slideshow is intended to ‘tell the story’ of the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, through a portfolio of photos from a visit by Peter Howard in June 2017. The slideshow begins with some introductory photos of captive pandas at the Dujiangyan Panda Base, which is one of four such facilities which are working towards developing an effective captive breeding programme for this highly endangered animal, for eventual reintroduction to the wild. Here, pandas are kept in relatively large enclosures, before being transferred to semi-wild (larger) enclosures with a view to possible future release into the wild. Captive breeding is seen as a critical element in the overall conservation strategy for giant pandas, alongside protection of natural habitat where wild populations are maintained ‘in situ’. The Dujiangyan Panda Base is located in a valley of natural panda habitat at the edge of the world heritage area. From the panda base the slideshow features a few further photos of typical animals of the region, including some of the numerous species of pheasant, as well as high altitude ungulates such as blue sheep, Sichuan takin and tufted deer (as exhibited in the Chengdu zoo). It is not easy to view any of these animals in the wild as there is very limited access to their natural habitat and the animals are shy and retiring. The next series of photos in the slideshow shows the range of habitats and scenery within the world heritage site, following one of the few roads that traverses the site. From Dujiangyan the road follows a steep-sided forested valley through the Wolong Nature Reserve and ‘Wolong village enclave’, where there is a worthwhile ‘Giant Panda and Earthquake Museum’, with informative exhibits on the natural history and biodiversity of the area as well as the devastating impact of a major recent earthquake (which resulted in the closure of the Wolong Panda Base and Hetaoping Reintroduction Training Base, which were previously key elements of the giant panda ex-situ captive breeding and re-introduction conservation strategy). The slideshow continues with further photos of the higher reaches of the Wolong Nature Reserve, and then the high alpine meadows, temperate forests and snow-capped peaks within the adjoining Siguniang National Park. Tibetan monasteries, prayer flags and Buddhist monks add a splash of colour to the environment in the higher reaches of the sanctuaries. The slideshow features some of the diverse flowers found in the alpine meadows, where yaks also graze and Himalayan Griffon vultures soar overhead. At the end of the slideshow, another series of photos of giant pandas is included, featuring animals in semi-wild conditions at the captive breeding facility at Ya’An Bifengxia Panda Base.
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2014) the conservation status of this site is ‘good with some concerns’. The IUCN report notes that ‘concerns remain regarding road and dam developments inside the site, as well as mining, translocation of local residents, an emphasis on tourism development rather than conservation, a preoccupation with new developments following earthquake events and a temptation to accelerate ecological restoration through reforestation with arguably inappropriate tree species. There is too much emphasis on captive breeding and less emphasis on in-situ conservation and habitat restoration. Reintroduction research and practice has been undertaken in the area for over a decade, with some progress, but reintroduction will not significantly contribute to wild panda population increase in the near future. The latest IUCN reactive monitoring mission recommended extending site to include Rongjin NR to link with Liangshan giant panda population. In fact additional sites in Minshan and even Baishuijiang (in Gansu Province) could be added as parts of a serial site even though not physically connected. Coordination of management between sub-sites via WH office remains weak, better reporting from field and greater authority to WH office is also needed.’