Three giant pandas has lunch, Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (Xiongmao Jidi), Chengdu, China (Source : Shutterstock).

Giant pandas are no longer endangered – That is according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a non-governmental organisation that maintains the authoritative list of the world’s rarest species.

The pandas, the animal used in the logo of the World Wildlife Foundation, were classified as rare, or, in newer terminology, endangered, in 1965. IUCN stated that the status of the species is now officially “vulnerable” which means that the species still at risk, but a step back from the brink of extinction.

This statement was made in an update to the organisation’s Red List in Hawaii on Sunday (4 September). There are nearly 83,000 species in the list. It said that nearly three in 10 are threatened with extinction.

“The improved status confirms that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” the IUCN said.

“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,” said the director general of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Marco Lambertini, in a statement. The wildlife conservation organisation has been using the large black-and-white mammal as its symbol for more than fifty years.

However, Chinese government disagreed with the statement. China’s State Forestry Administration said that it rejects the new classification because the species’ natural habitats had been disintegrated by natural and human causes. Currently, giant pandas have only one remaining wild habitat in the country, in the mountains of southwestern China. Although, the Chinese government had recently established dozens of wildlife reserves.

The forestry administration 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. Therefore, we’re not being alarmist by continuing to emphasise the panda species’ endangered status.”

The uncertainty of the actual numbers is the main reason why the Chinese government disputed the statement by IUCN.

One of the most successful wildlife reserves is the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan province which was established by the Chinese government in 1980. The protected forest areas which were being gradually expanded to now cover 1.4 million hectares (5,400 square miles), along with the arresting of the animals’ hunter who aimed for the skin trade were reasons behind the increasing number of the population.

However, to count the animals with absolute confidence is difficult. The widely-used method relies on identifying individuals from tooth marks in bamboo which extracted from scat.

The Chinese government has surveyed wild pandas for four times since 1974. In 2004, the third survey, China stated that it found 1,596 animals’ bite-mark evidence. In 2014, another survey was conducted which involved  60,000 person-days and took place across some 17,000 wooded square miles. The survey documented 1,864 pandas.

An adviser to China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, Marc Brody, told National Geographic, “It is too early to conclude that pandas are actually increasing in the wild. Perhaps we are simply getting better at counting wild pandas.”

The Chinese government stated that it would continue to keep the panda under first class protection, making the panda a particular conservation focus, far more so than river dolphins, pangolins and other rare species.

China has since ancient history, been using Giant Pandas as diplomatic gifts or offer them on loans to countries, as a symbol of the friendly ties between the country and China.

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