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Pandas now classed as 'vulnerable'

Updated: 2016-09-06 08:04
By Su Zhou in Beijing and Huang Zhiling in Chengdu (China Daily)


Pandas now classed as 'vulnerable'

Two giant pandas play around in the wild. WWF

Downgrade from 'endangered' doesn't mean the iconic species is no longer at risk, experts say

China's furry national icon has been downgraded from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on the global list of species at risk of extinction. But experts in China warn that the good news for the giant panda could be short-lived and may require an even greater conservation investment.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature announced the downgrade on Monday in Hawaii. It said that evidence from a series of national surveys indicates that the previous population decline has been reversed.

The union's Red List is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species, which are classified into nine groups. Endangered means "high risk of extinction in the wild" while vulnerable means "high risk of endangerment in the wild".

The State Forestry Administration said in an official statement: "It is too early to say that the giant panda is no longer endangered."

Pandas now classed as 'vulnerable'

China's fourth panda census, the results of which were released in 2015 by the administration, showed 1,864 wild pandas worldwide as of the end of 2013. That compares with 1,596 wild pandas worldwide in the third census carried out from 2000 to 2002.

But 24 of the 33 groups of wild pandas found in the fourth census - whose results were released in February last year - are endangered, with some groups having fewer than 30 pandas. Eighteen groups have fewer than 10 pandas each and are in severe danger of extinction.

It is predicted that a warming planet will wipe out more than one-third of the panda's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, the administration quoted the union as saying.

"Based on the current situation, we think it would cause irreversible damage to pandas and their habitat, and reverse the gains made during the last two decades, if we downgrade the protection level," the statement said.

Zhang Hemin, chief of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, agreed.

"More than 80 percent of the world's wild pandas are scattered in Sichuan. Their habitat in the province is very vulnerable, since Sichuan is prone to earthquakes," Zhang said.

Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan, said wild pandas survive solely along the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in six mountain ranges in China.

"With most valleys in their ranges inhabited by humans, many panda populations are isolated in narrow belts of bamboo no more than 1,000 to 2,000 meters in width," he said. "So their actual geographical range is much smaller than generally depicted on maps."

Lo Sze-ping, CEO of conservation group WWF China, said after decades of work, it is clear that only a broad approach will be able to secure the long-term survival of China's giant pandas and their unique habitat.

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