Construction of a high-speed rail network in southwest China is a welcome boost to the region's economy. As the network expands under the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016–20), we urge the government to reinforce and extend its efforts to protect the region's giant pandas and prevent further fragmentation of their habitat.
The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a protected species, so the Chinese government included an expensive system of tunnels and bridges to minimize disruption to its core habitat during the building of the Chengdu–Lanzhou railway, the first part of the network extension that began in 2013. Investment in further safeguards is essential as the network grows. Construction should not pollute groundwater or create deep cuttings and steep embankments; losses of soil, water and vegetation will all need to be remedied. The ends of bridges and tunnels should be kept away from panda areas, which must also remain free of building waste and materials. Providing wildlife corridors will enable the animals to cross the tracks safely.
Environmental protection must not cease after the railway is complete. To minimize noise, light and vibration between dusk and dawn, when pandas are most active, the trains should not run at night.