The impacts of human activities and the earthquake on giant panda habitat in China Sichuan province

On the 22nd  April 2013, a destructive earthquake struck China’s Sichuan province. A ‘terrified pandas climbed into tree to escape Sichuan earthquake’ video clip posed on YouTube and caught my eye. It got me thinking about the effect on giant panda habitat by human activities and after natural disaster. 

Giant panda in China

The giant panda is known as a living fossil and is the national treasure in China. They live in a few mountain ranges in central China, mostly in Sichuan province. Over 80% of the world’s giant pandas live in Sichuan province.   The giant panda is highly endangered animal worldwide and WWF has been active in China giant panda conservation since 1980. Seven nature reserves covering 9245km2 have been established in Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains in Sichuan for conserving and breeding.

Habitat loss

Pandas rely on abundant bamboo forest because 99% of their food source is bamboo although the animal classified as a carnivore. As human activities increased and Chinese population exploded, many bamboo forests in Sichuan were cleared for infrastructure construction and economic activities. Nature reserves currently protect 60% of the panda population, but this only limits pandas ability to find new feeding areas during periodic bamboo die-back episodes, this in turn increases the risk of inbreeding which leading to higher disease susceptibility.  Bamboo die-back is a natural phenomenon it happened every 15-20 years. When the bamboo dies, it can take a year to regenerate from seed and take 20 years before it can support a panda population. During these periods, pandas must migrate to new areas, however, human settlements and activities have created barriers against to giant panda movement.

One Quarter of habitat was lost after the 2008 Sichuan catastrophic earthquake

On 12th May 2008, a magnitude 8.0 catastrophic earthquake hit Sichuan province and Wolong Panda Reserve which was home of 280 giant panda just 18 miles away from the epicentre and located in narrow valley vulnerable to landslides. One panda was killed as boulders and debris caused her concrete enclosure to collapse and many of others were injured. Moreover, one quarter of giant panda habitat was lost which caused the pandas to face severe food shortages after earthquake.  A total of 137 square miles of bamboo forest habitat was cleared to bare ground and it takes many years to regenerate back to a bamboo forest.   

A magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit Sichuan province on April 20 2013. Fortunately, no giant pandas were injured in this earthquake. However, some of the bamboo forest was destroyed by debris. In addition, giant pandas were traumatized after the disaster which became a challenge for conserve park staff. Park staff said ‘pandas stayed the trees and volunteers had to carry them into the shelter one by one. They were always in the groups after the earthquake because of fear’.

panda stayed on the trees

‘The giant pandas stayed on the tree and volunteers had to carry them to shelter’, conserve park staff said.

panda grabs a volunteer's leg

A terrified giant panda grabs a volunteer’s leg in 2008 Sichuan earthquake.


Because of the human activities increasing and combined with threatening natural disasters in and around panda habitat, many pandas have been sold to zoos around the world, or sent as gift to other countries, to aid in panda conservation. With WWF and Chinese giant panda conservation plans, I hope that all the giant panda can back to the wild rather than stay in zoos or conservation parks, but this would require a great reduction in threatening process in their native China, and great increase in the bamboo forests that support them.




Thanks for reading.


Yushan Feng (u4994885)


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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