The giant panda is no longer considered an endangered species, the Panda Conservationist Committee announced Sunday.
Giant pandas have been “downlisted” from endangered to vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The announcement came at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which is the largest environmental decision-making forum in the world.
While threats to the survival of the species are still present, study findings show that protection policies put in place by the Chinese Government are working. Experts believe that nearly 2,000 giant pandas now exist in the wild, and believe that a majority of those pandas are adults.
The giant panda was categorized as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List for more than 20 years.
“While we do not believe the giant panda is completely safe, our IUCN Red List evaluation highlights how far we have come in panda conservation,” said Ron Swaisgood, director of applied animal ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “This iconic species, which is the poster child of endangered species globally, no longer qualifies as endangered. All the trends support this conclusion: Habitat is increasing and the population is growing.”
Local researchers from San Diego Zoo Global had a hand in the initial research that helped the Chinese government set effective conservation policies.
In 1996, the Zoo introduced Bai Yun, a female giant panda, to the public as part of its historic giant panda breeding program. Bai Yun became the first giant panda outside of China to give birth in 1999 and is considered the most successful breeding female outside of China, according to San Diego Zoo Global. She has since given birth to six cubs; Hua Mei (1999), Mei Sheng (2003), Su Lin (2005), Zhen Zhen (2007), Yun Zi (2009) and Xiao Liwu (2012).
Throughout her life, Bai Yun has helped researchers learn more about panda behavior, pregnancy, maternal care, genetics and the ecological needs of wild pandas.
Bai Yun, now 24 years old, and her 4-year-old son Xiao Liwu still live at the Zoo and are featured in Panda Canyon, while the Zoo’s third giant panda, Gao Gao, is being monitored at the Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station. All three giant pandas are on loan from the People’s Republic of China.
Meanwhile, IUCN has downgraded the status of the eastern gorilla on its Red List from vulnerable to critically endangered. The IUCN sites illegal hunting in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the reason for its reclassification.