Giant pandas taken off global ‘endangered’ list as population rebounds

Species now classified as ‘vulnerable’ by international conservation union, but experts warn the animals face growing threat from destruction of their habitat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 9:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 3:51pm

Decades of conservation work in China have paid off for the Giant panda, whose status has been upgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” due to a population rebound, officials said.

The improvement for the giant panda was announced on Sunday as part of an update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of plants and animals.

The latest estimates show a population of 1,864 adult giant pandas.

When push comes to shove, the Chinese have done a really good job with pandas
John Robinson, conservation officer

Exact numbers are not available, but adding cubs to the projection would mean about 2,060 pandas exist today, said the union.

“Evidence from a series of range-wide national surveys indicate that the previous population decline has been arrested and the population has started to increase,” said the report.

The cornerstones of the Chinese government’s effort to bring back its fuzzy, black-and-white national icon have included an intense effort to replant bamboo forests, which provide food and shelter for the bears.

Through its “rent-a-panda” captive breeding programme, China has also loaned some bears to zoos abroad in exchange for cash and reinvested that money in conservation efforts.

“When push comes to shove, the Chinese have done a really good job with pandas,” John Robinson, a primatologist and chief conservation officer at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said.

“So few species are actually down listed, it really is a reflection of the success of conservation,” he said at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the largest meeting of its kind, which drew more than 9,000 heads of state, policymakers and environmentalists to Honolulu.

Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said the improvement was “not rocket science” but came from the hard work of controlling poaching and replanting bamboo forests.

“This is something to celebrate because it is not a part of the world where we expect this to happen,” Stuart told reporters at a press conference to unveil the updated Red List.

Giant pandas ‘to be deemed at lower risk level’ as population increases

Experts warned, however, that the good news for pandas could be short-lived.

A warming planet, driven by fossil fuel burning, is predicted to wipe out more than one-third of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.

That means the panda population is projected to decline and any gains realised to date could be reversed, said Carlo Rondinini, mammal assessment coordinator at the Sapienza University of Rome.

“The concern now is that although the population has slowly increased, and it is still very small, several models predict a reduction of the extent of bamboo forests in China in the coming decades due to climate change,” he told reporters.

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The report said China’s plan to expand its conservation effort for pandas “is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation”.

The IUCN Red List includes 82,954 species, including both plants and animals.

Almost one-third, 23,928, are threatened with extinction, it said.