It's a big win in the world of conservation when an animal or plant species has bounced back from extinction enough to no longer be considered endangered, and the giant panda has officially reached that status. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently took the pandas off its endangered list and classified them as "vulnerable" instead. For many conservationists, however, the decision was rushed.
The good news is that since 2000 the number of giant pandas in China has grown from 1,100 to 1,864, with 422 of them in captivity. There are also now 67 protected panda reserves, with two-thirds of wild pandas living in these reserves. This is all thanks to the decades of conservation efforts made by the Chinese government.
The problem, as China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda conservationist Zhang Hemin has expressed, is that this decision may be premature. He and other conservationists worry that continued efforts and funding may slowly disappear, which could be harmful to further population growth in the wild, and potentially cause the population growth to stop or reverse.
"A severely fragmented natural habitat still threatens the lives of pandas; genetic transfer between different populations will improve, but is still not satisfactory," Zhang said in a report released after the IUCN made its announcement. "Climate change is widely expected to have an adverse effect on the bamboo forests, which provide both their food and their home. And there is still a lot to be done in both protection and management terms."
Shi Xiaogang, of the Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwestern Sichuan province, China's main panda conservation center, said it was positive that China's efforts had been recognized, "but as conservators, we know that the situation of the wild panda is still very risky."