Lesson 1: Humans + nature turns sustainability failure to success

A panda in Wolong Nature Reserve

Pandas and People book cover

Read more in Pandas and People:

Chapter 3 - Peek into a Home for Pandas and People

Chapter 4 - Pandas–People Coexistence and Competition

Chapter 7 - Panda Habitat Transition

Understanding coupled human and natural systems is key to sustainability – and holds the promise of recovery – from natural disasters like earthquakes to the ecological affronts of mismanagement and exploitation.

Push and pull between wildlife conservation and human need defines China’s efforts to protect its treasured and endangered giant pandas. Well-intentioned policies to preserve or restore wildlife habitat often placed hardships upon the people who live in the Wolong Nature Reserve. Ironically, even love for pandas proved dangerous. The tourism that grew from a human fascination with pandas caused more forest degradation as trees were chopped down to cook food and build lodging for those tourists.

Yet coupled human and natural systems research has helped find balance. Exacting data from satellite imaging and on-the-ground measuring shed light on where, how and why habitat – especially the bamboo pandas eat exclusively -- was disappearing. The information brought stronger enforcement of habitat-protecting laws. Bringing in social science research helped reveal how people reacted to environmental policies, as well as find ways to engage, compensate or redirect people to curb harmful behaviors.

This innovative combination of research has brought new policies and revitalized enforcement. Forests are restored, wildlife recovering and human well-being improved. A path for recovery is emerging – one that demands a melding of sciences from both the human, and nature

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