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Parasite Threat to Panda Conservation


The giant panda is a global symbol of wildlife conservation that is threatened by historic and current habitat loss. Despite a great deal of research on the physiology, reproductive biology, and diet of pandas in the wild and in captivity, there is little information on wild panda mortality. Here we integrate previously unavailable data on the mortality of wild pandas. We report on three recent phases of panda mortality: deaths due to bamboo flowering in the 1970s and 1980s, surprisingly extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s, and a parasitic infection over the past few years. Our analyses suggest that the current most significant threat to wild panda survival is disease due to extraintestinal migration (visceral larval migrans) by an ascarid nematode. We demonstrate that the probability of death of wild pandas being caused by this disease increased significantly between 1971 and 2005 and discuss the possible factors leading to the emergence of this disease.

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We thank Hume E. Field, Queensland DPI, for advice and Aleksei A. Chmura, Consortium for Conservation Medicine, for help with manuscript preparation. This study was supported by State Key Program for Basic Research Grant 2005CB523004 of the Ministry of Science and Technology, People’s Republic of China to S. Zhang and by core funding to the Consortium for Conservation Medicine from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

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Correspondence to Shuyi Zhang.

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Zhang, JS., Daszak, P., Huang, HL. et al. Parasite Threat to Panda Conservation. EcoHealth 5, 6–9 (2008).

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  • giant panda
  • parasite
  • conservation
  • mortality
  • emerging infectious diseases
  • China