UNESCO Added Giant Panda and Shark Sanctuaries to World Heritage List (2006)

If the game show Family Feud asked contestants which species of wild animals Americans most loved and hated, I’m sure that the giant panda and sharks would make the list.  Fortunately, they both made a much more important list on this date in 2006—the list of World Heritage Sites.

Malpelo Island isn’t much, but the surrounding marine area is exceptional (photo by NOAA)

            UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) maintains a list of unique areas around the world that should be preserved for their cultural or natural heritage.  About half those sites are recognizes for their natural features.  Each year, UNESCO reviews and makes changes to the list.  At the 2006 meeting, on July 16, only two sites were added to the list, both for their natural heritage—the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary in Colombia and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries in China.

            The Malpelo Sanctuary is a small island (about 800 acres) about 300 miles off the coast of Colombia.  The land area is important, but the surrounding marine reserve is massive, covering nearly 2 million acres.  This “marine wilderness”  is remote and largely unaffected by human modification. The water is deep, with rugged underwater canyons, cliffs, walls and other features.  Several currents converge there, funneling richly nutritious water into the area.  Consequently, the density and diversity of marine organisms is exceptional, especially for shark species and other top predators.  The sanctuary is also home to 17 marine mammals, 7 marine reptiles, nearly 400 fish species and more than 300 mollusks.

Hammerhead sharks congregate in large numbers in Malpelo (photo by Kris Mikael Krister)

            UNESCO also added the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries in 2006.  These sanctuaries provide the largest contiguous area of giant panda habitat remaining in China (which also means in the world).  Giant pandas once lived over a much larger portion of China, but now are restricted to a series of mountain ranges in the southwestern province of Sichuan.  The sanctuaries, which encompass a number of separate nature reserves and parks, cover about 2 million acres and another 1.2 million acres of buffer zone.

            The sanctuaries are home to 30% of all giant pandas living in the wild (the total is getting close to 2,000 individuals).   The ecosystem is described as a relict of tropical forests that existed millions of years ago during the Tertiary.  It has exceptionally high plant diversity for a temperate region, with nearly 6,000 described species.  Hundreds of traditional Chinese medicinal plants grow there, making the sanctuaries especially important as a refuge from overharvest.  The diverse flora supports a similarly diverse fauna.  Over 100 mammal species live there (20% of all Chinese mammals), including the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard.  Bird species number over 300, including many endemic species. 

Giant Pandas at Wolong Panda Sanctuary (photo by Hph)

            The Chinese government’s efforts to conserve the giant panda have worked well.  These large sanctuaries have been accompanied by reforestation of buffer zones and establishment of travel corridors between preserves, extending the available habitat for wild giant pandas.  Captive breeding at several research centers has produced hundreds of young available for re-introduction into natural habitats.  The success is real:  In the 1980s, IUCN assessed the giant panda as rare; in the 1990s, its status was upgraded to endangered; and in 2016, its status was upgraded again, to vulnerable. 

References:

IUCN.  Red list – Giant Panda, Ailuropoda melanolecua.  Available at:    https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/712/121745669#assessment-information.  Accessed March 27, 2020.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre.  Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary.  Available at:  https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1216/.  Accessed March 27, 2020.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre.  Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries—Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains.  Available at:  https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1213/.  Accessed March 27, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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