A wide variety of wildlife are living in southwest China’s Giant Panda National Park under the most rigorous national protection, with great efforts made by the country to improve the ecological environment.
The park spans parts of southwest China’s Sichuan province, and northwest China’s Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Covering an area of 27,000 square kilometers, it is home to 1,631 wild pandas.
The Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwest China’s Sichuan Province is the core area of the park, located on the western edge of the Sichuan Basin and the southeastern foothill of Qionglai Mountains bordering the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Sichuan Basin. The species of panda, China’s national treasure, has lived in this area for at least 8 million years, surviving the Quaternary glaciers.
Different parts of the mountains in the reserve have different ecological environment, with swift rivers in the valley, lush forests on the mountainside and snow-capped peaks on the top of mountains. Climbing up the mountains, it is possible to experience three seasons and at least five climatic zones in a single day.
Covering a 60-kilometer radius, such an area is home to a wide variety of large herbivores and carnivores, including the panda.
The large range of elevation fluctuations has brought about complex changes in topography and created a very complex and diverse ecological environment that provides the habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Pandas and other wild animals are vertically distributed in different climatic zones from the top to the bottom of mountains.
“The middle and lower part of the mountains, at an altitude of less than 2,000 meters, is very good virgin forest, which is the main habitat of pandas. Covered by snow at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 meters, the upper part of the mountains is the main habitat of snow leopards, which is above the forest line,” said Li Sheng, a researcher with the School of Life Sciences of Peking University.
It is commonly known that pandas feed on bamboo and live in warm and humid bamboo forests, while snow leopards eat herbivores and live in cold high mountains. However, the two species are living together harmoniously and have seen increase of their own population quantity in the Wolong reserve.
Infrared camera has once captured the footage of pandas on a snow-capped peak at an altitude of 4,200 meters, which is the habitat of snow leopards. According to the latest monitoring data, pandas are commonly seen in the areas more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Infrared cameras at such an altitude are usually set up for photographing snow leopards.
As a top predator, snow leopards will also descend into the forest where pandas live to hunt herbivores in winter when food is scarce.
“In this area, the food available to snow leopards is rich in not only quantity, but also variety. The population density of some herbivore, like bharal, is relatively high in this area, which is also the core region for the distribution of pheasants with very high diversity. The wild animals living on high mountains, such as pheasants, are actually supplement to the snow leopards’ prey,” said Li.
Both pandas and snow leopards have maintained a high level of population density in the Wolong reserve where they can have sufficient food supply and no natural predators. In addition to the unique wild panda, the density of snow leopards has even exceeded that on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, ranking among the best in China and even in the world.
“We have identified 26 individuals of snow leopards within an area of approximately 100 square kilometers that we have already investigated. The density of snow leopards is probably higher than that on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau,” said Li.
In addition to snow leopards, an infrared camera has recently captured the image of a panthera pardus walking through a piece of alpine meadow.
This was not the first time that leopard was captured in the Wolong reserve. Back in 2018, the gorgeous back of a leopard individual was captured by an infrared camera, making the Wolong reserve the only panda habitat in the world that has two big cat species at the same time.
The leopard once again appeared in the reserve after two years. Further monitoring is needed to determine whether they came to choose a place to live or just for a short stay.
“We have noticed that the group of panthera pardus is gradually moving into the Qionglai Mountain from the south, and the population is probably in the process of recovery,” said Li.