Fu­ture is black and white for Gi­ant Pan­das

Group says bear not en­dan­gered, China not so sure

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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”.

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