Giant pandas no longer endangered, China says
Bear species classified as vulnerable
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What animal do you think of when you hear the term endangered species? If you answered the panda, you’re not alone.
The iconic black and white bear native to China is a symbol of conservation for many people, even serving as the logo for the World Wildlife Fund since 1961.
In July, Chinese officials announced that giant pandas are no longer considered endangered — just vulnerable.
This is good news for pandas, but the bear species is still at risk.
China’s classification now matches IUCN
This announcement comes five years after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the giant panda’s status from endangered to vulnerable.
The IUCN manages the Red List of Threatened Species, which is considered to be the world’s most comprehensive list of species facing extinction.
The IUCN officially classified giant pandas as endangered in 1990, when the panda population was just 1,114 individuals.
In 2016, the population was thought to be around 1,184 individuals. That’s when the IUCN bumped the status of the species up to vulnerable.
China disagreed with the reclassification.
At the time, Chinese officials said they feared that the vulnerable status would make people think the panda wasn’t still in danger, possibly hurting conservation efforts.
Why did China change the panda’s status to vulnerable now?
As of Jan. 3, there were 633 pandas in captive breeding programs around the world, according to Chinese officials. That’s double the number from 2016.
Captive breeding is when pandas are kept in zoos and sanctuaries while humans try to help them have more panda cubs to increase population numbers.
According to the IUCN, the most recent population survey estimates that panda numbers are resting at around 2,060 individuals.
This new reclassification is “another sign of hope” for pandas, said Colby Loucks, the vice-president for wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Why were giant pandas endangered in the first place?
Panda populations started to go down in the early 20th century because of hunting and habitat loss.
Different groups of pandas were split apart and became isolated from each other because humans cleared the bamboo forests where pandas lived to build roads, buildings and farms.
Being separated made it harder for the bears to find mates, causing a drop in the number of cubs being born.
Plus, the loss of bamboo forests made it more difficult for pandas to find food.
Thirty years of effort
It’s taken 30 years of dedicated, long-term conservation efforts to get the species back on track.
Those efforts include captive breeding programs, restoring panda habitat and the creation of 50 giant panda reserves in China.
Many experts agree that the hard work has paid off.
Vulnerable doesn’t mean the panda is totally safe
Unfortunately, even though being “vulnerable” is better than being “endangered,” pandas are still at risk of going extinct.
According to the IUCN, at least 35 per cent of the panda’s bamboo habitat could be lost in the next 80 years because of climate change.
Plus, many pandas still live on land that is at risk of being destroyed by deforestation.
Some experts say that the Chinese government should focus more on restoring and protecting wild habitats and less on captive breeding.
The panda is a successful case
Although panda populations remain vulnerable, there is reason for optimism.
“China’s successful conservation of giant pandas shows what can be achieved when political will and science join forces,” the WWF said in a statement on July 9.
If that kind of co-operation continues, there could be more good news on the horizon for the species.
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TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images