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Retreat of large carnivores across the giant panda distribution range


As both a flagship and umbrella species, the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is one of the most heavily invested species in conservation. Here, we report the wide distribution range retreat of the leopard (Panthera pardus, 81% loss), snow leopard (P. uncia, 38%), wolf (Canis lupus, 77%) and dhole (Cuon alpinus, 95%) from protected areas in the giant panda distribution range since the 1960s. The present findings indicate the insufficiency of giant panda conservation for protecting these large carnivore species and suggest that future conservation efforts should target restoring ecosystems with high trophic complexity to facilitate the recovery of large carnivore populations.

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Fig. 1: Status of the four large carnivore species across the PAs in the giant panda distribution range, China.
Fig. 2: Numbers of PAs where the four large carnivore species still exist and where they have disappeared across the five mountain ranges in the giant panda distribution range, China.

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Data availability

Detailed information on the survey effort and the occurrence of large carnivore species in the 73 studied PAs is available in Supplementary Data 1, which represents all the data needed to reproduce the analysis.


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This study was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant no. XDA19050503). The Smithsonian National Zoological Park was one of the sponsors of the camera trap surveys organized by the authors. We thank the reserve staff who returned the questionnaires and provided camera trap data. We also thank L. He, Y. Li, S. Zhu and Y. Huang for helping with the questionnaire survey and S. H. M. Butchart, K. Ma and H. Bu for their insightful comments and suggestions.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.L. and X.S. designed and conducted the research and performed the analysis. X.S., S.L. and W.J.M. drafted the paper. S.L., D.W., W.J.M. and X.S. conducted the camera trap surveys in 18 PAs and provided the corresponding data. S.L., X.G. and X.Z. conducted the questionnaire survey. L.Z. contributed to the study conceptualization and revised the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Li Zhang or Xiaoli Shen.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 The studied protected areas in the giant panda range, China.

Marked numbers referring to the protected area ID in Extended Data Table 1. Boundaries were not available for the three managed forests (Kuanba, Huangyang and Huangtuliang) and two community-managed protected areas (Xinyigou and Guanba).

Extended Data Fig. 2

Map of the proposed Giant Panda National Park and the existing giant panda nature reserves.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Data 3–5.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Tables

Supplementary Data 1: basic information and camera trap survey efforts of the studied PAs in the giant panda range. Supplementary Data 2: number of detections and detection rates (number of detections per 1,000 camera-days) of the four large carnivore species in the giant panda range and other study sites in China with known viable populations.

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Li, S., McShea, W.J., Wang, D. et al. Retreat of large carnivores across the giant panda distribution range. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 1327–1331 (2020).

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