The giant panda is no longer “endangered” thanks to decades of conversation work in China, officials announced on Sunday.
The improvement of status from "endangered" to "vulnerable" for the giant panda was announced as part of an update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the world's most comprehensive inventory of plants and animals.
The latest estimates show a population of 1,864 adult giant pandas. Although exact numbers are not available, adding cubs to the projection would mean about 2,060 pandas exist today, said the IUCN.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 4, 2016
The cornerstones of the Chinese government's effort to bring back its fuzzy, black-and-white national icon have included an intense effort to replant bamboo forests, which provide food and shelter for the bears.
— WWF (@WWF) September 4, 2016
Through its "rent-a-panda" captive breeding program, China has also loaned some bears to zoos abroad in exchange for cash, and reinvested that money in conservation efforts.
Experts warned, however, that the good news for pandas could be short-lived.
A warming planet, driven by fossil fuel burning, is predicted to wipe out more than one-third of the panda's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.
That means the panda population is projected to decline, and any gains realized to date could be reversed, said Carlo Rondinini, mammal assessment coordinator at the Sapienza University of Rome.
"The concern now is that although the population has slowly increased, and it is still very small, several models predict a reduction of the extent of bamboo forests in China in the coming decades due to climate change," he told reporters.
The IUCN report said China's plan to expand its conservation effort for pandas "is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation."
Whilst the giant panda population is on the increase, the IUCN has changed the status of previously abundant animal species to either “endangered” or “near threatened” due to illegal hunting and habitat loss.
Four out of six great ape species are now Critically Endangered, only one step away from going extinct, with the remaining two also under considerable threat of extinction.
The once widespread and abundant Plains Zebra and three species of antelope found in Africa have both moved from “Least Concern” to “Near Threatened”.