Giant Pandas Headed for Extinction?

China's famous mascot, the giant panda, could disappear from the wild in two or three generations, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Beijing. Experts warn the animal's natural habitat in southwest China is threatened by development.

Fan Zhiyong, Species Programme Director for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Beijing voiced concerns in a report by the Xinhua News Agency, saying basic housing projects have "a fundamental conflict with conservation."

Zhiyong, spokesperson for the World Wide Fund for Nature, said heavy traffic has stopped pandas from crossing over highways, inhibiting the pandas' ability to meet and interact with each other, as they normally do.

Roads, power lines and water projects are also cutting off pandas from nearby areas where they might find a suitable mate.

Although the WWF was not against economic development, Zhiyong said considerations for pandas should be made when developing housing ideas.

"We shouldn't say 'don't let development happen.' We are just asking if, in the process of developing these areas should we, can we, stop and think that as a Chinese national treasure and a globally protected species, can we plan with them in mind? Can our development plans include them in the considerations?"

CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reported on "The Early Show" Tuesday, researchers have increased the numbers of baby pandas born in captivity through artificial insemination.

But, in the wild, Hatton pointed out, the Chinese bears are notoriously unsuccessful at reproducing on their own. And now, fewer than 1,600 pandas are roaming China's bamboo corridors that are now less than a mile wide.

Hatton said Chinese ongoing construction means the wild panda population could soon shrink to nothing.

Zhiyong said, "If these animals are all raised by people they are no longer a wild species...if at some point in the future the only way to see the survival of the panda as a species is to rely on the artificial insemination of frozen sperm, we will know the extinction of this species is not far off."