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Wild giant pandas "take over" former logging farms

Xinhua EN 徽标 Xinhua EN 2021/12/1 Lyu Qiuping,Zhang Chaoqun,Xiao Lin,Xie Jiao,unreguser,unreguser
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An infrared camera captures footage of a wild giant panda in the Xiaozhaizigou area of the Giant Panda National Park, southwest China's Sichuan Province, March 1, 2021. (Giant Panda National Park/Handout via Xinhua)

CHENGDU, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- It's already winter, but a forest in southwest China's Sichuan Province is still thick with colorful trees, in sharp contrast to the barren hills in the same area two decades ago.

The Xiaozhaizigou area in Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County, home to 47 giant pandas and hundreds of other animal species, is part of the country's Giant Panda National Park.

In mid-October, China officially designated the first group of five national parks, including the Giant Panda National Park.

The Xiaozhaizigou area covers 443.8 square km, but more than 360 square km was once logging farms, with the ecological environment severely damaged.

After more than 20 years of reforestation and ecological restoration efforts, the area has become an ideal habitat for giant pandas and other wild animals.

"The giant pandas have 'taken over' the former logging farms," said Zhao Jun, manager of the Xiaozhaizigou area of the Giant Panda National Park, adding that the number of giant pandas in the area rose from zero in 1977 to 47 in 2015. "The population of the species is still on the rise."

Forest ranger Liu Xiandong used to be a logger. He remembered the area had been cut down into a barren hill by 1997.

"The trees were gone. Wild animals disappeared. Natural disasters like landslides became common," Liu recalled.

In 1998, Sichuan Province launched a natural forest protection project, with loggers putting down axes and picking up shovels to plant trees.

Fu Yong, a forest ranger manager, has been planting trees in the area since then.

"The tree was as thin as my thumb back then," he said while pointing at a tree with a diameter of more than 40 cm.

After the trees became a forest with growing populations of wild animals, the focus of the rangers has shifted from tree plantation to monitoring, researching and protecting wildlife, said Fu.

To date, the Xiaozhaizigou area has seen 15 wild animal species under China's top-level national protection. This year alone, the infrared cameras installed in the area have recorded 12 video clips of giant panda activities so far.

Golden snub-nosed monkeys and takins are among the other rare species captured by the cameras.

China's total area of giant pandas' habitats surged to 25,800 square km in 2015 from 13,900 square km in 1988, national survey results show.

Over the past 20 years, forest rangers in the Xiaozhaizigou area have trekked an average of some 20,000 km per person in total.

"Seeing the hills turning green again and wild animals wandering around, I feel our efforts are worthwhile," said the forest ranger Liu. 

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