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In the misty mountains of Sichuan Province, the arrow bamboo will act strangely, which is threatening China’s panda populations. They will turn brown and scrawny, with odd grasslike seed heads appearing amid their weak leaves. The stage is set for a botanical disaster that may wreak havoc on the habitats of China’s national animal. 

Hundreds of giant pandas in southwestern China could die from starvation because of the bamboo’s widespread cyclical regeneration next year. 

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, scientists from Tsinghua University, China, warn that large-scale bamboo flowering could pose a massive risk to the survival of China’s national animal.

Compelled to eat half their own body weight in bamboo each day to survive, pandas derive most of their nutrition from bamboo shoots. But they refuse to eat them when they blossom. Blooms produce seeds before dying off, and it takes 10 years for a new crop to mature. Mass flowering of bamboo tends to occur at the same time in certain regions, with the cycle running at different times in other regions.

An ideal giant panda habitat must, therefore, contain at least two bamboo species that flower at different times to allow pandas to migrate from one bamboo patch to another when the first species flower. Different bamboo species have different flowering periods varying from 20 to 60 years. 

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In many parts of the world, bamboo blossoms are dreaded as bad omen

Giant Panda Habitat Loss Facts

Habitats of giant pandas have been fragmented due to human population expansion, land-use change, and road construction. Major highways and railways crisscross southwestern China and limit movement of pandas from one forest patch to another.

Bamboo flowering and fragmentation of their habitat had already sounded the death knell for scores of giant pandas in the past. Over 250 of them starved to death following a widespread flowering episode that occurred between 1975 and 1983 in Pingwu and Nanping counties of Sichuan Province. Subsequently, the total number of giant pandas in China declined by more than 50 % from approximately 2,000 individuals in 1976 to about less than 1,000 after a decade. 

The researchers studied habitats in the Qinling and Minshan mountains, where the largest population of giant pandas is concentrated. Using existing databases and overlaying animal density, bamboo species distribution, and bamboo flowering seasons, they inferred the risk factor. 

Panda habitats in Qinling Mountains and Minshan Mountains will face the highest risk in 2020 with bamboo species in almost all areas flowering simultaneously. 

Detailed planning and adaptation strategies might mitigate the risk factor. “We should carefully consider whether giant pandas will be ready for the upcoming food shortage,” says the Tsinghua paper. “But the possible interventions are limited here.”

Pandas derive most of their nutrition from arrow bamboo 

Scientists recommend to “expand the habitat of giant pandas and establish habitat corridors between protected areas.” But warn that “if we cannot restore natural corridors, it may be necessary to translocate pandas between fragmented nature reserves or to newly-gazetted ones.”

Preparing contingency plans to rescue starving giant pandas either with supplemental feeding or bringing them into temporary captivity until the bamboo recovers is another solution.  

Natural habitat reduction resulting from climate change and human interference is a global trend with uniquely local repercussions on ecosystems and societies. The sprawling growth of urban areas devouring land can be seen from space. Mitigation policies for safeguarding local flora and fauna are being experimented. 

The impending Damocles’ sword over Giant Pandas, already a conservation-reliant vulnerable species, highlights the delicate balance societies must strike in managing wildlife reserves and protecting biodiversity.

Bamboo is no longer the ‘poor man’s timber’- climate experts around the world are now recognising bamboo, the fast-growing grass plant, as a tool for climate change mitigation.

An action as simple as drinking your coffee from a bamboo cup can make a positive impact on the environment. Not just coffee cups, using other bamboo products– from textiles to furniture– made of bamboo also can pave the way for a green future.

Bamboo has long been popular amongst the less fortunate in the world. As a good substitute for wood, bamboo is an additional source for livelihood among forest-dependent populations, especially in Asia and Africa. Now, as the fast-growing and most renewable forest-based material, there is an increasing interest among the people from other parts of the world to use bamboo as a tool to save the earth’s eco-system.

How do bamboos fight climate change?

Bamboo plays an important role in reducing pressure on other forestry resources, including timber and plywood, by indirectly reducing deforestation. The plant is highly efficient in carbon sequestration with its ability to store the highest amount carbon than any other trees.

It is however vital that the bamboo is harvested and then utilized before reaching a state of deterioration so that the total accumulation of carbon in a solid state exceeds the carbon released into the atmosphere. This can be done through sustainable management and selective harvesting practices, both essential for the bamboo plant to operate at maximum capacity with regards to carbon storage.

Compared with other durable materials, the environmental costs in terms of the production of bamboo can be almost carbon negative. A report released by INBAR reveals that bamboo does not produce a net carbon emission. Carbon storage in bamboo durable products can be kept for decades, even for hundreds of years.

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The diagram illustrates the life cycle of bamboo and its capability to generate heat and electricity if burned in an electrical power plant.

Bamboo is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels. Its biomass can be processed through thermal or biochemical conversion to produce different energy products like charcoal, syngas, and biofuels, which can be substitutions for existing fossil fuel products. If it replaces fossil fuel on a massive scale, the global carbon footprint would be reduced drastically.

Bamboo also plays a vital role to protect biodiversity by providing habitat for a number of animals like the giant panda, red panda, mountain gorilla, bale monkey, and the greater bamboo lemur. All these animals rely on bamboo for food and shelter.

Made up of over 1200 species, naturally distributed in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world, bamboo is commonly found in Africa and Asia, as well as Central and South America.

Bamboo forests provide habitats for a number of animals

The new consumer interest in bamboo has resulted in a growing sector now estimated worth $60bn a year. China leads the world’s largest bamboo and rattan sector, at a total estimated output of $32bn a year. With the rural communities becoming part of the production of bamboo goods, this growth is now playing a vital role in improving the livelihoods of millions of people across the world.

It’s the small changes in our lives that will ultimately make a difference. So why not choose to have your daily coffee from a bamboo cup over your usual polystyrene option. Not only will you help mitigate the increasingly alarming impact of climate change but you’ll also be lowering your carbon footprint and supporting the livelihood of the developing world.


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