Pandas at risk from Chinese vineyardsBy Lucy Shaw
The habitats of endangered giant pandas are being threatened by planned vineyard plantings in the Chinese provinces of Shaanxi and Sichuan.
According to the South China Morning Post, authorities in Shaanxi plan to plant 18,000 hectares of vineyards, and similar schemes are in the pipeline for Sichuan, putting the 1,600 wild giant pandas that inhabit the provinces at risk.
While the Chinese government has set up reserves for giant pandas, the animals don’t always remain inside them.
“Vineyards around a panda reserve can definitely affect the animals.
“Pandas move outside of reserves, so the forest outside is an important habitat. If forest is cleared to plant grapes, there may be direct loss of panda habitat,” climate change specialist Dr. Lee Hannah said in a study of the impacts of climate change on wine production and conservation.
“If grapes are grown on land used for grazing, livestock may be displaced into panda habitats,” Hannah added.
Winemakers from France, Spain, Australia and the US are showing increasing interest in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu as a spot for grape growing.
Meanwhile, the prefectures of Liangshan, Aba and Ganzi, all of which are officially recognised as natural habitats for giant pandas, have also been earmarked for future planting.
Aba plans to expand its vineyards six-fold to more than 6,600 hectares by 2020 and convert more than 40,000 Tibetan farmers into vineyard workers.
“We will turn Aba into the Bordeaux of China,” the Aba government said online.
In Liangshan, a government employee told the SCMP that the creation of vineyards was at the top of their agricultural agenda, and that they had already signed contracts with domestic and overseas investors.
Despite the risk to the endangered species, a government employee in Danba county, Ganzi, said that while the protection of giant pandas was important, the benefits of planting vineyards were “immediate” and “irresistible”.