Panda lovers rejoice!
The beloved giant panda is being considered for a lower vulnerable species status as their population in the wild increases. Giant pandas first appeared on the list of endangered species in 1990.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which monitors the extinction risks of world animals, may be modifying the panda’s ranking on the red list of threatened species. Last year, the IUCN commissioned a scientific assessment of the panda’s population size and habitat.
According to the South China Morning Post, a statement from a source corresponding with China’s fourth panda census from last year said:
“Scientifically, the wild population is increasing, and the natural habitat is expanding.”
In 1995, there were only about 1,000 wild pandas and in 2003 it rose to 1,600. In 2013, the State Administration of Forestry indicated that there were 1,864 pandas remaining in the wild and 375 in captivity. The population size of pandas increased by nearly 17% in the span of a decade.
Lu Zhi, a conservation biology professor at Peking University, believes that human activities lead to “fragmentation” of land into isolated parts. As a result, pandas’ habitats are threatened. Lu said:
“The most pristine habitat is gradually being lost as roads are built into the remote mountains. Even though the overall area of habitat is expanding, we’re actually losing the best ones.
“I’d hope any decision will be made very cautiously. It’s better to be conservative than regretful someday.”
In 2008, the IUCN deemed loss of habitat as the greatest threat to pandas. Since then, conservation efforts have been made to bring the population back up. However, Lu notes that China had ulterior motives for their plans to protect the panda. She said:
“The iconic part is that the panda has become a de facto ‘ready source of money’ for China’s forestry authorities. But a lion’s share of the protection fund has gone to building expensive breeding centres instead of protecting habitat.”
While habitat conservation slowed local economic development, building breeding centers attracted public attention and generated income. New breeding centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are being considered by forestry authorities. Lu speculates:
“If the wild population is expanding, why is it necessary to artificially breed pandas.”