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A Special Connection Helps Save Pandas in the Wild

United flies Smithsonian scientists to study native habitats in China

Author Maddie King Photography Smithsonian’s National Zoo (Panda)


United Airlines is a major presence in the Chinese market, operating more nonstop U.S.-China flights, to more cities in China, than any other airline. This year, United will make a special connection between the two countries by providing travel for research scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) to study giant pandas and their habitats in China’s Qinling and Minshan Mountain regions.  

The scientists will be studying several new protected areas, including GuanYinShan Nature Reserve, where pandas have started to return after years of logging and human activity in the area. The scientists seek to understand how deforestation, habitat loss, and climate change impact giant pandas and other species, and how they adapt to these changes. 

For more than 25 years, giant pandas, which are native to Central China, have been considered an endangered species, as human activity has significantly reduced their natural environments. There are currently less than 2,000 pandas living in their natural habitat, and only an additional 432 that live in zoos and breeding centers around the world. 

“United’s support of this project helps our efforts to understand how wild pandas adapt to living in a human-dominated world, to assist park staff across the five mountain ranges pandas call home, and to restore giant panda habitats at GuanYinShan,” says Dr. Bill McShea, conservation ecologist at SCBI.

“Support for this research is part of United’s Eco-Skies program and the airline’s commitment to organizations that promote environmental knowledge and leadership,” says Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director of environmental affairs. “We commend the Smithsonian scientists for their contributions to these endangered animals.”

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