Future is black and white for Giant Pandas
Group says bear not endangered, China not so sure
A leading international group has taken the giant panda off its endangered list thanks to decades of conservation efforts.
However, the Chinese government discounted the move yesterday, saying it did not view the status of the country’s beloved symbol as any less serious.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report that the panda is now classified as a “vulnerable” instead of “endangered” species, reflecting its growing numbers in the wild in southern China.
It 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.
The report warned, however, that although better forest protection has helped increase panda numbers, climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35 per cent of its natural bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, potentially leading to another decline.
In a statement to The Associated Press, China’s State Forestry Administration said 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-loving, 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 weight behind preserving the animal, which has been sent to zoos around the world as a gesture of Chinese diplomatic goodwill.
WWF, whose logo has been a panda since 1961, celebrated the re-classification, saying it proved aggressive investment does pay off “when science, political will and local communities come together”.