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How China’s Ownership Laws Control the Fate of Pandas Worldwide

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The giant panda Fubao, born in Everland, Yongin, South Korea, has been incredibly popular among the public through natural breeding. Fubao, who spent a happy time in Korea, left Panda World in Everland after a farewell event with visitors on April 3, 2024, and headed to the Giant Panda Conservation Research Center in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, China. From now on, we will explain the facts about pandas, which many people in Korea began to pay attention to thanks to Fubao.

The panda species

Pandas are animals related to bears that inhabit the Sichuan region of China. In the Chinese-speaking region, pandas are written in Chinese characters combined with bear and cat. They are classified as the giant panda species of the bear and panda genus. Originally, pandas were known as raccoons, not bears, but genetic research has revealed that they are bears. Unlike other bears, they are not carnivorous but eat bamboo as their main food, and they do not hibernate like bears in tropical regions.

Fully grown pandas

In extreme cases, fully-grown pandas can weigh up to 352 pounds (160 kg). They are larger than general mammals but not as big as other bears and animals.

Habitat of pandas

Pandas are animals distributed mainly in Sichuan province, China. In China’s Qinling Mountains, you can see Qinling pandas, similar to Sichuan pandas. Sichuan pandas resemble bears while Qinling pandas look more like cats. Originally, pandas were a species widely distributed in the central and southern regions of China, and they are said to have been native to areas outside of China, such as Vietnam and Myanmar. The reason why pandas are endangered is said to be due to habitat destruction and a natural decrease in population, as they only inhabit bamboo forests.

China’s Panda Ownership Policy

The reason Fubao had to leave Korea was because China strictly prohibited the export of pandas. Pandas were a species whose population was decreasing before China’s environmental destruction became severe, and currently, China is spending a lot of money to protect, breed, and manage pandas. About 50 pandas are leased overseas by China, and countries that have leased pandas are paying a large amount of rent. Also, pandas born in other countries are treated as China’s property, and if they do not pay the cost, they must be returned to China immediately after birth.

Pandas in South Korea

The predecessor of the current Everland, Yongin Natural Farm, brought in pandas named Mingming and Lili to breed them for ten years in 1994. However, in 1998, the farm had to give up breeding pandas due to the inability to afford the lease due to the foreign exchange crisis. For a long time afterward, pandas could not be seen in Korea. The pandas returned to Korea in 2016, when Everland celebrated its 40th anniversary, and two pandas, Aibao and Lebao, came to Korea.

Panda reproduction

The rapid decrease in pandas is due to the few cubs they give birth to in their lifetime. The average number of cubs a female panda gives birth to is reported to be about 1.5. Depending on the individual, there are many cases where there is no maternal instinct, and many females do not care for the cubs they have given birth to. The survival rate of cubs in the wild is said to be only 30%. However, it is reported that the survival rate has increased to over 90% now under human protection.

Personality

Despite being bears, pandas have a gentle temperament, like their cute appearance. As herbivores, pandas that have lived with humans from a young age follow humans well. Videos of Fubao and the keeper interacting prove this. However, they have physical abilities close to those of predators, are territorial animals, and are very sensitive, so they should always be careful. It is reported that there were almost annual cases of pandas attacking humans in China from 2000 to 2019.

Natural enemies of Panda

No pandas live in the wild now, so discussing their natural enemies in nature does not have much meaning. Nevertheless, looking at past cases, it is reported that leopards, jackals, etc. attacked pandas. Eagles also attacked young pandas, and there were many cases of being attacked by black bears. Tigers were also natural enemies of pandas, but no attack cases are left now as tigers are also extinct in the wild.

From the brink of extinction

China began full-scale research on pandas in the 1970s. Efforts were made to breed pandas before, but research on breeding began after Deng Xiaoping took power. The number of individuals increased from 1,114 in 1984 to 1,596 in 2004. In the 2010s, it is known to have exceeded 2,000. Currently, pandas are designated as a vulnerable species, one step lower than endangered species.

Everland’s pandas

Although many pandas survive for over 30 years, the expected average lifespan is about 20 years. Also, if a panda dies while being leased overseas, a compensation of $536,000 must be paid to the Chinese side. The pandas Lebao and Aibao of Everland were born in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and Fubao, who returned to China, was born in 2020. The twins Luibao and Huibao were born in Korea in 2023. If there is no separate contract extension, Lebao and Aibao will go to China in 2031, and Luibao and Huibao will go in 2027.

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