The giant panda, an animal that has become an icon of the conservation movement, is no longer an endangered species, it has been declared.
After its population was estimated to have grown by more than 16 per cent in just over a decade, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded its status to “vulnerable”.
The reasons for the animal’s comeback is simple — a conservation programme by the Chinese government that focused on restoring its habitat of forests with an ample supply of bamboo.
For, contrary to a “myth” based on early problems in zoos, giant pandas have no problems reproducing.
Conservation group WWF, which uses the panda as its symbol, described the reclassification as “hugely encouraging news”, but added that it should be seen in the context of a 52 per cent average decline in the populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish between 1970 and 2010.
In a statement, the IUCN warned climate change was predicted to eliminate more than 35 per cent of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.
This means that the population gains made over the last 20 years will be reversed unless more is done to protect the forests.
According to Chinese officials, a survey carried out between 1998 and 2002 found there were 1,596 giant pandas living in the wild. The latest survey, conducted between 2011 to 2014 found evidence of 1,864.
Dr Ronald Swaisgood, chair of the IUCN’s Giant Panda expert team, told The Independent in an email: “The current situation is that all the trends are positive. Panda numbers are increasing, occupied range is expanding, and available habitat is recovering.
“However, the population is very badly subdivided by habitat fragmentation, into about 33 smaller populations that are at least partially isolated.
“The genetic diversity is still good, but looking forward all are concerned that the smaller populations will not be genetically viable.”
Efforts are being made to connect forest areas with wildlife corridors or relocate the pandas if this is not possible.
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SOURCE: The Independent, Ian Johnston