Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has marked the Eastern Gorilla as critically endangered, another animal species that was already endangered has been taken off of the endangered list: Giant Pandas.
It is indeed a welcomed tidbit of news, as Giant Pandas are cute and fluffy and everyone loves these bamboo-loving creatures. On the other hand, it’s a somewhat awkward announcement because the Giant Panda is an iconic image in wildlife conservation efforts; even the World Wildlife Fund uses the Giant Panda as their organization logo.
Awkwardness aside, the news has animal lovers doing jumping jacks and somersaults because it shows that conservation efforts, if executed correctly, can be effective as preserving species from extinction.
“For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF. Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Director General.
“The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” he added.
The species is not 100% out of the woods just yet; the IUCN has a tiered system that categorizes animal species based on their risk of going extinct. In being moved away from endangered, Giant Pandas are now considered “vulnerable,” which means any wrong moves could land them back into being endangered.
As pointed out by the IUCN’s Red List news page, the Giant Panda population has increased by approximately 17% as per the last census performed in 2014. The census said there were about 1,850 Giant Pandas in China’s wilderness, which was up from 1,600 in a census performed in 2003.
The species numbers got as low as they did all thanks to animal poachers and swift habitat development.
Not everyone is convinced that their numbers are increasing, however. Marc Brody from China’s Wolong Nature Reserve suggests that “perhaps we are simply getting better at counting wild pandas” and he believes it’s “too early” to be saying the species is making a comeback just yet.
"In fact, 'suitable' or quality panda habitat is in fact decreasing from ongoing fragmentation from highway construction, active tourism development in Sichuan Province, and other human economic activities,” he continued to explain.
Conservationists will have to be very careful to continue enforcing their conservation efforts if we are to get Giant Pandas out of the vulnerable stages next.
More work needs to be done to ensure the survival of these wonderful animals, and it requires the cooperation of local governments, as well as local citizens to enforce these efforts.
Source: IUCN via National Geographic, WWF