Wildlife groups hail the Giant Panda's revival

For half a century the Giant Panda has been a symbol of global attempts to preserve wildlife.

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Wildlife groups hail the Giant Panda's revival

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For half a century the Giant Panda has been a symbol of global attempts to preserve wildlife. Now there are signs that efforts to protect the iconic bears are showing some rewards.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has reported that the species is no longer “Endangered” – although the animals are still classed as “Vulnerable” in the organisation’s updated Red List. The number of pandas in the wild in southern China has grown significantly this century: up to 1,864 in 2014 from 1,596 a decade earlier, according to official figures.

Chinese agencies are credited for their work in protecting forests and stamping out poaching. However, the good news comes with a warning that climate change could reverse the pandas’ fortunes in decades to come.

And while panda numbers have recovered, the IUCN also warns that in contrast, four out of six great ape species are now “Critically Endangered”.

Wildlife organisations hailed the recovery of the Giant Panda, whose estimated numbers fell to below 1,000 in the 1980s. International groups and the Chinese government have worked to save them in the wild and breed them – often in the face of criticism that the huge costs could have been better spent on saving other animals.

“The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will, and the engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” said the Director General of the World Wildlife Fund, Marco Lambertini, in a WWF news release. The organisation’s logo is the panda and it has long worked with the Chinese government to save the animals and their habitat. The WWF says the 67 panda reserves in the country now protect nearly two-thirds of all wild pandas.

However there are estimated to be fewer than 2,000 individuals overall, and wildlife organisations warn that the Giant Panda is not out of the woods yet. Climate change is predicted to destroy more than a third of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, leading to a decline in numbers and a reversal of the gains made over the past two decades.

The IUCN says that to protect pandas in the wild in future, it is critical that effective forest protection measures are continued and emerging threats are addressed.

The news of the improvement in the species’ status comes after the birth, in captivity, of a set of panda twins in the USA. A Giant Panda named Lun Lu delivered the twin cubs on Saturday (September 3).

Highlighting the plight of the great apes, the organisation says the Eastern Gorilla has moved from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered” due to a “devastating population decline of more than 70 percent in 20 years”, primarily due to illegal hunting. Three other species of great ape – the Western Gorilla, Bornean Orangutan and Sumatran Orangutan – are also now listed as “Critically Endangered”. The Chimpanzee and the Bonobo are both listed as “Endangered”.

Eastern Gorillas – made up of two subspecies, Grauer’s gorillas and mountain gorillas – are found in the rainforests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mountain gorilla numbers have rallied, although fewer than 1,000 remain, but Grauer’s gorillas now total fewer than 4,000 compared to around 20,000 in the 1980s.

“To see the Eastern Gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.