Some 170,000 people will be relocated in the process, as the new habitat will allow China's "national treasure" to thrive undisturbed over a wide region. Residents facing relocation will be offered jobs within the reserve, as guides or maintenance crew. Others will be compensated with jobs and homes in other parts of the country.
The giant panda, an animal symbolic of friendship and peace in Chinese culture, was previously listed as endangered. Last fall the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in a nod to the increasing panda population, upped their listing of the animal, from "endangered" to "vulnerable."
In 2014, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) counted 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China, a 17 percent surge from earlier estimates.
"The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity," said WWF Director General Marco Lambertini, cited by the International Business Times.
An estimated 67 separate panda preserves will be merged into a single enormous entity covering some 10,500 square miles that is also expected to benefit an additional 8,000 species of plants and animals in the region.