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

October 1
Yosemite National Park Created (1890)
October 2
San Diego Zoo Founded (1916)
October 3
James Herriot, English Veterinarian, Born (1916)
October 4
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology
October 5
Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)
October 6
Mad Hatter’s Day
October 7
Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, Born (1888)
October 8
World Octopus Day
October 9
Vajont Dam Disaster (1963)
October 10
Dnieper Dam Began Operation (1932)
October 11
Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserves Created (1974)
October 12
William Laurance, Tropical Conservationist, Born (1957)
October 13
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
October 14
Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)
October 15
Isabella Bird, Pioneering Eco-traveler, Born (1831)
October 16
World Food Day
October 17
Oliver Rackham born (1939)
October 18
Clean Water Act established (1972)
October 19
Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)
October 20
OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)
October 21
“Ding” Darling born (1876)
October 22
Wombat Day
October 23
Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)
October 24
Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)
October 25
Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)
October 26
Erie Canal Opens (1825)
October 27
Golden Gate and Gateway National Recreation Areas Created (1972)
October 28
Henry Mosby, Wild Turkey Biologist, Born (1913)
October 28
First Ticker-tape Parade Held (1886)
October 29
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Dedicated (1889)
October 30
UNESCO Designates 9 Natural World Heritage Sites (1981)
October 31
Lincoln Highway Dedicated (1913)
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