AsianScientist (Sep. 16, 2016) – The cute and cuddly giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is living proof that China’s focused conservation efforts are slowly, but surely, working. The bamboo-guzzling creature is no longer listed as endangered, a status it held since 1990.
It is now listed as vulnerable, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This list is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species.
The rare and beloved giant panda can only be found in the six major mountain ranges in the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of China, and is considered a national treasure. Fortunately, thanks largely to China’s 67 panda reserves, the panda population has seen a steady 17 percent increase in the ten years leading up to 2014, when a nationwide census found 1,850 giant pandas in the wild in China. The last census in 2003 counted 1,600 animals.
This is amazing news for a species which was once predicted to be extinct in two to three generations, if increased development around its natural habitat was not controlled.
Indeed, the Chinese government put in much hard work in the past three decades to get to this point. Conservational success for the giant panda is thanks to two factors: a marked decrease in poaching, which was rampant in the 1980s, and a huge expansion of the animal’s protected habitat.
However, this small victory could be short-lived. According to the IUCN notice, climate change could eliminate more than 35 percent of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years. Thus, the panda population is ironically predicted to decline in the future, effectively reversing the progress made during the last two decades.
To protect this iconic species, it is critical that we continue effective forest protection measures and address emerging threats, the notice said.
In any case, not all are convinced that this is a step in the right direction. Mr. Marc Brody, senior adviser for conservation and sustainable development at China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, said that there is no justifiable reason to downgrade the listing from endangered to threatened. Brody pointed out that panda habitats continue to decrease in size due to human activities such as highway construction and tourism development.
Brody was also quoted by National Geographic as saying, “It is too early to conclude that pandas are actually increasing in the wild—perhaps we are simply getting better at counting wild pandas.”
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
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