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Giant panda population is on the rise , but China still faces huge challenges

The giant panda, native to the disappearing bamboo forests of southwestern China, was recently classified as vulnerable rather than endangered by the IUCN

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Giant panda
A Giant panda in China. Wikimedia
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  • The Chinese native Giant panda was recently classified as vulnerable rather than endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • The move came as the IUCN reported a 17 percent rise in the panda population in the decade up to 2014 when 1,864 giant pandas were found in the wild in China
  • While highly focussing on the giant panda, China is being unable to manage tiger protection
  • The government rents out pandas to overseas zoos in a gesture seen as a seal of diplomatic approval, but which is also highly lucrative for the ruling Chinese Communist Party

Oct 04, 2016: Now that China’s iconic national treasure, the giant panda, has been taken off the list of endangered species, the government’s wildlife protection strategy would benefit from a change in focus, campaigners have told RFA.

The giant panda, native to the disappearing bamboo forests of southwestern China, was recently classified as vulnerable rather than endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in a development that was largely welcomed by campaign groups.

The move came as the IUCN reported a 17 percent rise in the panda population in the decade up to 2014 when 1,864 giant pandas were found in the wild in China.

But even the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF), which uses the panda as its logo, said the news should spur governments to further efforts to save rapidly shrinking populations of wildlife.

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“The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” WWF chief Marco Lambertini said in a statement on the group’s website.

But he warned: “While the panda’s status has improved, other species are under increasing threat, including the Eastern gorilla, which is now listed as critically endangered primarily due to poaching.”

The Chinese government, in particular has focused on the giant panda, while neglecting other endangered species, according to Grace Ge Gabriel, regional director for China at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Giant panda
A group of Giant pandas. Representational image. Wikimedia

“The Chinese government has actually poured a vast amount of money, manpower and effort into the protection of pandas and their breeding in captivity, because it views the giant panda as a national treasure,” Ge Gabriel told RFA in a recent interview.

Falling short on tiger protection

She said the tiger population, which became extinct in south China early this century, would have been a more valuable species to focus on.

“The Chinese government has actually poured a vast amount of money, manpower and effort into the protection of pandas and their breeding in captivity, because it views the giant panda as a national treasure,” she said.

“In reality, the true value of a giant panda lies in its influence on its natural habitat, and in that respect, tigers are actually more important than pandas,” Ge Gabriel said.

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“Tigers are a species that China and Asia should be really proud of, but the Chinese government has fallen far short so far when it comes to the protection of tigers.”

But she said the government shouldn’t cut its panda program as a result of its removal from the Red List of endangered species.

“I don’t think this means that there should be reduced protection for pandas or their habitat in future,” Ge Gabriel said.

“There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that those pandas bred in captivity are about to return to the wild.”

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China has around 420 pandas in captivity, with more than 200 births at its research center in Chengdu.

The government rents out pandas to overseas zoos in a gesture seen as a seal of diplomatic approval, but which is also highly lucrative for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Before they can be released, the animals must be trained to recognize predators and socialize with their peers, a process fraught with difficulty as researchers say they still don’t fully understand the species.

Fewer than 10 pandas have been released to the wild in the past 10 years. (BBG)

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  • Antara

    Vulnerable or endangered, protection of such animals are immensely important for the sake of maintaining the balance in Nature!

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)