As if pandas didn't have it bad enough already, now comes a new report that predicts China's blossoming economy poses such a great threat to giant pandas that the species could be extinct in two to three generations.

The report comes from animal conservationist Fan Zhiyong, species program director at the Beijing office of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF—and known in the U.S. as the World Wildlife Fund). Fan formerly served as a technical official with China's State Forestry Administration.

The specific threat to giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) comes from habitat fragmentation: "The construction of highways at nature reserves permanently dissects the panda's habitat, obstructing migration, mating and healthy gene exchange," Fan told China's Global Times.

"Humans should leave some space for the survival of animals," Fan says.

Fan adds that many wild panda populations are being squeezed into areas no bigger than a square kilometer. But pandas are solitary creatures and prefer to wander. Not only does this habitat fragmentation force them to live in smaller areas, Fan says it will lead to inbreeding, increased vulnerability to disease, and further reductions in their already low reproduction rate.

China's 1,500 wild pandas live in 18 fragmented populations, according the 2003 National Giant Panda Survey conducted by the State Forestry Administration and the WWF. Just over half of their habitat (54 percent) is protected, spread out between 67 panda reserves.

Image: Giant panda by Mark Roche via Stock.xchng