"In this new world of hyper connectivity, even remote areas like the Wolong Nature Reserve are connected in so many ways. If we're going to understand the world fully, and advise policy makers well, science needs to make the big picture as specific and detailed as possible," says Jianguo "Jack" Liu. (Credit: Patrick Cardinal/Flickr)

carbon dioxide

The global footprint of pandas on a plane

An international team of scientists wanted to understand how pandas and local people in pandas’ fragile environment interact across the world. Their results are a bit mind-boggling.

Their analysis, published in the journal Ecology and Society, offers a dynamic view of how issues of sustainability reach across the world—and then impacts rush back. And effects spring up along the way.

panda
(Credit: Nathan Rupert/Flickr)

Understanding the minutia is important to sustainability, says lead author Jianguo “Jack” Liu, a scholar at Michigan State University, because policies intended to improve the world’s environment or save rare animals like pandas aren’t supposed to cause damage in other places.

“In this new world of hyper connectivity, even remote areas like the Wolong Nature Reserve are connected in so many ways. If we’re going to understand the world fully, and advise policy makers well, science needs to make the big picture as specific and detailed as possible.”

Panda loans

So Liu and colleagues across the United States and China hunkered into the task of showing how pandas in the mountains of southwestern China affect the globe, and vice versa.

Their paper does a deep dive into the two-way superhighway of trade, economics, physical sciences, and environmental ups and downs between Wolong and the rest of the world.

[Efforts to save China’s panda could rescue other species, too]

For example: panda loans. The iconic bears from Wolong have gone to seven cities in five countries across the world, usually for fees and often carrying diplomatic and public relations good will in both directions.

The scientists identify not just those points, but zero in on the juggernaut of people involved in negotiating and facilitating the arrangements and the economic benefits and costs—from increased donations to zoo attendance to operational and training expenses.

Bamboo on a plane

Then the paper dives deeper. The scientific collaborations and conservation efforts expand as the pandas span out. The carbon emissions soar as pandas get new homes.

For instance, a panda pair that was resettled on loan in Edinburgh, Scotland, not only spewed out some 232,000 kg of CO2 from the Boeing 777 they took from Chengdu to Scotland, but Edinburgh didn’t have enough bamboo.

[GPS says pandas don’t keep regular hours]

That meant the jet originated in Memphis, where it loaded up on bamboo before swinging by to pick up the bears. Then there are the impacts of tourist visits, additional staffing, and training. At each segment of the panda’s path, more effects register, if one looks for them.

It makes any discussions of panda loans—or the future of panda loans—much richer than a simple yes/no consideration.

Michigan State University, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Guggenheim Foundation supported the project.

Source: Michigan State University

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