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Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered, Experts Say

This undated photo shows Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu playing in snow during snow day at San Diego Zoo.
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
Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered, Experts Say
Giant Pandas Are No Longer Endangered, Experts Say GUEST:Rick Schwartz, global ambassador, San Diego Zoo Global

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh it's Monday, September 5. Our top story on midday edition. After 32 years on the endangered species list the giant panda has been removed to the less urgent vulnerable list of species. The international Union for the conservation of nature says the wild panda population has jumped by almost 300 over the last 10 years largely due to the efforts by the Chinese government. Joining me is the San Diego zoo's global ambassador. Welcome to the program. Thank you for happened to me -- for having me. What kind of work has been going on behind the scenes to help the pandas survive? One of the great success stories is when we first had our two pandas come to a 1996 and we started the breeding process which has been an asset to all of us. And the first Panna to get birth outside of China and she continue to do so for quite a while. She has had six Cubs and through this process is an outstanding team of keepers and researchers working side-by-side with them better able to understand the reproduction needs, the maternal needs, and the growth process of youngsters and over the two decades of having them do that we work with the Chinese government collecting more data to apply that's what the animals need in the wild. What are the factors to the panders been taken off the endangered species list. Habitat increase in population growth. The population growth is great but we need more. They are not completely out of the woods. The biggest influence is going to be the habitat increase. The work that the Chinese government has done to reconnect fragment habitats is a big deal. One of the challenges in the wild was not just the loss of habitat but if you looked in on the square kilometers it that should be enough but it was fragmented. This meaning males and females cannot cross paths and lost the opportunity for reproduction in the wild. We worked to reconnect the fragmented areas in a tattered great impact. How did they get so close to extinction in the first place? They are very reclusive. Fewer were being seen in the wild and with that and a got a better understanding that a panda can only be successfully impregnated three days out of the year and if there's not another meet around in that window that said egg problem. Once they do have a youngster it will be another three years before they are ready to go ahead and meet again. All those things make it challenging for the population to grow in a healthy environment. You have to keep them balance. When you start fragmenting the habitat and they can no longer breeds that's one of the major challenges right there. The information about breeding in the very limited time that they are available for reading that came about because of the efforts of others use but in particular San Diego zoo. A lot of our research outfront was having a lot of understanding of the cycle of the female and the hormone influences keeping track of all that and behavioral and understanding the behaviors between male and female. And picking up on the subtleties of the pheromones and hormones and all that research has been going on for two decades at the San Diego zoo and sharing that information with the Chinese government and others use they have really had a chance to bring these animals off the endangered species list. We want to stress that they are not completely safe. Being downgraded to vulnerable means there are still challenges ahead. We have to stay the course. It just means the work we have been doing has had success and we are moving in the right direction. I read that the conservationists were still concerned about the effects of climate change. Could that shrink the available food for the giant panda? Yes most certainly. When we look at the science of climate change we seem changes in many be -- habitats. They like areas that have a high concentration of bamboo. The majority of the diet is bamboo. If climate change will influence where the plants can and cannot grow that will directly influence where we can and cannot have pandas. If the shift happens to be too dramatic for the pandas we will see not only the influence on their status as being vulnerable or in danger but we will see that with many animals across the board. I've been speaking with Rick Schwartz the global ambassador to the San Diego zoo. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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."