Giant pandas are among the most beloved animals in the world and are the iconic symbol of China as well as of the World Wildlife Fund, the global NGO dedicated to wildlife conservation. In the mid 1990s, the population of wild pandas dropped to as low as 1,000 as a result of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and an intrinsically low birth rate. There is also illegal poaching despite severe penalties. Pandas have been considered to be an endangered species for quite some time.
As a result of a breeding boom in recent years, pandas appear to be making a strong recovery. The most recent survey by the Chinese government, which was released a couple of years ago, showed that giant pandas had increased in number to 1,864.
Because of this, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature is reassessing the panda’s status. They are considering downgrading the giant panda from “endangered” in the wild to the slightly lower category “high risk of endangerment”.
It is unclear whether this will actually take place. The Chinese government appears to be keen to accept a downgrade of the panda’s status so that it could relax its conservation efforts. Although the government wants to be seen as supportive of panda conservation, its efforts are not all that conservationists advocate. For example, not all giant pandas live in currently protected forests, which puts their habitats at risk for further fragmentation.
Conservationists around the world are waiting for the IUCN’s decision on the matter, which will play an important part in determining the extent of future efforts to save this unique animal.
Photo, posted July 24, 2009, courtesy of Kevin Dooley via Flickr.