Giant pandas, a symbol for conservation, are no longer listed as an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The change was announced as part of an update to the IUCN Red List, which assesses the conservation status of a species. The IUCN reported the giant panda population has improved enough for its status to be downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable.”
Giant panda population on the rise
The global giant panda population has been on the rise in recent years, with a total estimated population of 2,060 pandas in 2015, up from 1,596 in 2004, according to the IUCN report.
“Evidence from a series of range-wide national surveys indicate that the previous population decline has been arrested, and the population has started to increase.”
The giant panda was once widespread throughout southern China, and is often portrayed as a symbol for conservation groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The IUCN’s first assessment of the species in 1965 listed the giant panda as “very rare but believed to be stable or increasing.”
Measures to restore the wild panda population in China include forest protection and reforestation to ensure necessary habitat. There are now 67 reserves throughout China protecting nearly 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers) of habitat and just over two-thirds of the global panda population.
Climate change remains a concern
Although the population is currently increasing, the IUCN report also warned that climate change and decreasing bamboo availability could reverse the gains made in the past few decades.
“Climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35 percent of the Panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, and thus the Panda population is projected to decline.”
Grim report for the eastern gorilla
The IUCN also issued a grim warning about the fate of the eastern gorilla in the same report, which has moved one step closer to extinction. Its Red List status was upgraded from “endangered” to “critically endangered” after what the IUCN called “a devastating population decline” of more than 70 percent in the last 20 years.
Conservation is a struggle in the Congo, where the majority of the eastern gorilla population lives, because of political instability and illegal poaching. Inger Andersen, the Director General of the IUCN, said in a statement:
“To see the Eastern gorilla — one of our closest cousins — slide toward extinction is truly distressing.— It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet.”