Stories tagged China

Dec
19
2006

Chinese river dolphin: extinct?
Chinese river dolphin: extinct?

An international team of scientists recently spent six weeks on China's Yangtze River looking for the endangered river dolphin. They were unable to find any, leading some to believe the animal has been driven to extinction.

The 8-foot-long mammal has lived in China's longest river for 20 million years. But massive increases in fishing, shipping and development have pushed the creature to the brink. The last confirmed sighting occurred in 2004, and the last captive dolphin died in 2002.

By definition, scientists don't consider an animal extinct until 50 years after the last sighting in the wild. And the recent survey focused on the river's main channel - it's possible some dolphins may yet hang on in the tributaries. But even if they do, it's unlikely the population can ever recover.

Aug
17
2006

Giant Panda: Courtesy  drs2biz
Giant Panda: Courtesy drs2biz

Three new panda cubs were born in China this past week. The new births, brings the total of giant pandas born in captivity up to six for the year. The giant panda is an exotic, endangered species mostly found in China. China considers these pandas a national treasure.

One of the three new panda cubs has created quite the stir. Six-year-old Zhang Ka gave birth to the heaviest cub ever born in captivity after the longest labor period. The new cub weighed in at 218 grams (half a pound). Ordinarily, most cubs weigh between 83 and 190 grams at birth. Zhang Ka was in labor for 34 hours making her labor the longest in panda reproduction history. Reports say both the mother and cub are doing well.

Breeding giant pandas in captivity is a cumbersome task. Female pandas ovulate once a year with a tiny conception window. There is a minute window of 24 to 48 hours where artificial insemination methods are conducted. Overall, there are about 1,000 giant pandas living in the wild and about 140 pandas living in zoos and breeding centers around the world (however most are in China).

Giant Panda: Courtesy  Jellyrollhamster
Giant Panda: Courtesy Jellyrollhamster

Giant pandas are bear-like in shape with black and white coloration. Their ears, eye patches, legs and shoulder band are black while the rest of their body is white. Giant pandas live in temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. Scientists are unsure of their life expectancies in the wild but in captivity the giant panda’s lifespan averages more than twenty years.

Just out of curiosity, what names would you pick for the new panda cubs?

Jun
22
2006

Happy pandas: Two new studies show significant increases in panda population numbers. But the debate is still open on if the increase is due to better panda habitat or better counting methods.
Happy pandas: Two new studies show significant increases in panda population numbers. But the debate is still open on if the increase is due to better panda habitat or better counting methods.
Here’s some good news…especially if you’re a panda bear living in China.

A couple recent studies are showing an upturn in panda populations. But the reasons for the greater number of the furry creatures are still being debated.

Researchers now think that there are about twice as many pandas living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve – a 123-square-mile preserve in southwestern China – than were previously believed. The researchers have hiked up their numbers based on DNA samples they’ve collected in Wanglang.

Through the study, it’s now believed that 66 to 72 pandas live in the region, up from the previous estimate of 32.

Those researchers believe the increased panda numbers are the result of several factors: natural population growth, migration from other areas and a logging ban near the preserve which has maintained suitable habitat for pandas. They were also excited to find out a rich diversity in the genetic material they’ve found around the preserve, boding well for strong panda population growth in the coming years.

In a wider survey project of panda populations in China, a four-year census shows a 45-percent increase in the number of bears sighted in the past four years. That count found 1,590 wild pandas compared to 1,100 found during the last census in the 1980s.

But this might not be just the result of improved panda habitat over that time. Researchers admit that they are now using more accurate census techniques. The latest census went higher and deeper into the bamboo-filled mountains that pandas favor to live in. Most of the numbers were put together in previous censuses without actually seeing the pandas that were counted.

The new census, for the first time, used global positioning technology in finding some of the pandas. Counters also looked for chewed up bamboo shoots and the distinctive teeth marks different pandas would leave on the shoots after their meals.

But researchers also note that China has dedicated more land to panda habitat than ever before. There are now 40 panda reserves across the country compared to just 13 a couple decades ago. As the panda numbers continue to climb, some panda enthusiasts worry about another potential problem. Some of the panda preserves are now looking at ways of expanding tourism to their sites.

What do you think? Should people be able to come look at the pandas in the wild as their numbers continue to grow? Has too much, or too little, been done to help this endangered species?

Jan
14
2005

Scientists in China have discovered two fossil mammals from the age of dinosaurs. One still had in its stomach the remains of its last meal--a baby dinosaur. The other mammal, the size of a modern dog, is by far the largest mammal known from this period.

These fossils are cool for a bunch of reasons. Complete skeletons are rare, and skeletons with stomach contents preserved are extremely valuable: they tell us who ate who, and how animals related to each other and to their environment.