In 2003, it was estimated that a mere 1,600 giant pandas remained in the wild. By 2014, that number had risen by as much as 17 percent, Now, the latest survey suggests the giant panda population has reached 2,060, allowing this once desperately threatened group of animals to be declared no longer endangered by a group of experts on Sunday.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has updated their Red List of Threatened Species, classifying the giant panda population as improved enough to be removed from that list, and downgraded to “vulnerable.” The report claims forest protection and reforestation efforts in China have created more available habitats for the species, allowing them to slowly reestablish themselves.
“The improved status confirms that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” the IUCN’s report noted. Unfortunately, it’s still predicted that, over the next 80 years, more than one-third of the species’ bamboo forests will be harmed by climate change, which will once again cause the population to diminish.
“To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed,” the IUCN cautions.
Endangered since 1990, the giant panda has been a worldwide symbol of wildlife conservation for half a century, so the species’ successful population growth shows the impact human efforts have had. And along with an expansion of the animal’s protected habitat, there has been a marked decrease in poaching.
“For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF,” explained Marco Lambertini, Director General of the WWF. “Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats”
China has gone to great lengths to protect its panda population, with conservation efforts spanning decades. In fact, they now have 67 reserves protecting almost 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers) of habitat and 67 percent of the panda population. Poaching, rampant in the 1980s, has been banned.
“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,” Lambertini stated.
But as mentioned previously, this doesn’t mean the giant panda is in the clear. The IUCN warned that climate change and a reduction in bamboo availability could reverse all the efforts that have been made to boost the population and allowed us all to celebrate the species’ success.
“It is a real concern, and this is emblematic of what species are facing globally with regard to climate change,” explained Joe Walston, Vice President of Conservation Field Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The most important thing we can do at the moment is to be able to grow the extent and range of that habitat and by doing that you allow pandas to move across landscapes.”
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