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Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered, Experts Say

Reported by Katie Schoolov

Photo caption: This undated photo shows Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu playing in snow during snow da...

Photo by San Diego Zoo Global

This undated photo shows Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu playing in snow during snow day at San Diego Zoo.

Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered, Experts Say

GUEST:

Rick Schwartz, global ambassador, San Diego Zoo Global

Transcript

Good news for giant pandas.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature over the weekend dropped the bears off its endangered species list. The giant panda population has grown thanks to conservation efforts, particularly forest protection and reforestation, according to the IUCN.

But there’s a caveat. Although the species has been upgraded to its vulnerable list, the IUCN said the giant panda population is projected to decline as climate change can wipe off more than 35 percent of the animal's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.

“To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed,” IUCN said in a statement.

Ron Swaisgood, director of applied animal ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and chair of the IUCN’s Giant Panda Expert Team, was the primary author of the report that led to IUCN’s decision to downlist the giant panda.

“While we do not believe the giant panda is completely safe, our IUCN Red List evaluation highlights how far we have come in panda conservation,” Swaisgood said. “This iconic species, which is the poster child of endangered species globally, no longer qualifies as endangered. All the trends support this conclusion: Habitat is increasing and the population is growing.”

The report said the wild panda population jumped to 1,864 in 2014 from 1,596 in 2004, the result of work by Chinese agencies to enforce poaching bans and expand forest reserves.

China's government, however, discounted the move on Monday, saying it did not view the status of the country's beloved symbol as any less serious.

In a statement to The Associated Press, China's State Forestry Administration said Monday that it disputed the classification change because pandas' natural habitats have been splintered by natural and human causes. The animals live in small, isolated groups of as few as 10 pandas that struggle to reproduce and face the risk of disappearing altogether, the agency said.

"If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the populations and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements would be quickly lost," the forestry administration said. "Therefore, we're not being alarmist by continuing to emphasize the panda species' endangered status."

Still, animal groups hailed the recovery of the bamboo-gobbling, black-and-white bear that has long been a symbol of China and the global conservation movement.

The panda population reached an estimated low of less than 1,000 in the 1980s due to poaching and deforestation until Beijing threw its full weight behind preserving the animal, which has been sent to zoos around the world as a gesture of Chinese diplomatic goodwill.

The Chinese government and the World Wildlife Fund first established the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan province in 1980. Wild panda numbers have slowly rebounded as China cracked down on the skin trade and gradually expanded its protected forest areas to now cover 1.4 million hectares (5,400 square miles).

International groups and the Chinese government have worked to save wild pandas and breed them at enormous cost, attracting criticism that the money could be better spent saving other animals facing extinction. The IUCN drew attention on Sunday to the 70 percent decline in the eastern gorilla population over the past 20 years.

But the WWF, whose logo has been a panda since 1961, celebrated the panda's re-classification, saying it proved that aggressive investment does pay off "when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together."

A panda cub gets tickled during a health exam at San Diego Zoo.

Xiao Liwu having a ball during a health exam at San Diego Zoo.

Panda Bai Yun celebrates her 24th birthday at the San Diego Zoo.

Panda cub Xiao Liwu enjoys his first snow day with his mother, Bai Yun, at San Diego Zoo.

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