GREEN

Giant Panda Numbers Are Rising, But It's Not That Black And White

The iconic species is still at risk.

05/09/2016 8:47 AM AEST | Updated September 5, 2016 12:05
Gary Cameron / Reuters
Giant Pandas have been moved from endangered to vulnerable after an estimated increase in their numbers.

The Giant Panda has had its status upgraded from "endangered" to "vulnerable" following decades of work by conservationists and efforts by the Chinese government.

But the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns the slight improvement in the numbers of the Giant Panda could be undone by advancing climate change.

The update, made as part of the IUCN's Red List of threatened species, show an estimated population of 1,864 adult Giant Pandas. Adding cubs to that figure means there are approximately 2,060 Giant Pandas.

Russell Cheyne / Reuters
Tian Tian, a giant panda eats bamboo in the outdoor enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo ,Scotland April 12, 2016. The number of panda reserves is at 67, and they protect nearly two-thirds of all wild pandas.

"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," IUCN said.

"Whereas the decision to downlist the Giant Panda to Vulnerable is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government's efforts to conserve this species are effective, it is critically important that these protective measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed."

"An increase in available habitat and an expanding occupied range provide further support for the contention that Panda numbers are increasing," the IUCN said, noting that Chinese forest protection and reforestation measures have have supported an 11.8 percent increase in occupied habitat.

Olivia Harris / Reuters
A three-month old female giant panda cub on display to the public for the first time at the national zoo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2015. About 10 percent of the Giant Panda population are estimated to be cubs.

But the IUCN also warned climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35 percent of the Panda's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years, meaning the Panda population is projected to decline.

"To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed," the IUCN said.

"The Chinese government's plan to expand existing conservation policy for the species is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation."

The World Wide Fund for Nature said the survey pointed to a 17 per cent rise in the Giant Panda population in the decade to 2014.

But the conservation body said while the improvement should be celebrated, pandas remain scattered and vulnerable with much of their habitat threatened by poorly-planned infrastructure projects.

The news comes as a giant panda gave birth to her second set of twins at a zoo in Atlanta, Georgia, in the U.S.

World's Largest Gorilla A Step Closer To Extinction

Martin Harvey
Hunting, war and loss of land over the past 20 years have led to a "devastating population decline of more than 70 per cent," for the eastern gorilla, said the IUCN' update said.

The IUCN Red List also found the world's largest gorilla, the Eastern Gorilla, has been pushed to the brink of extinction amid decades of displacement, war and illegal hunting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Four out of six of the Earth's great apes are now critically endangered including the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan.

Previously estimated to number around 16,900 individuals, recent surveys show that Grauer's Gorilla numbers have dropped to only 3,800 individuals – a 77% reduction in just one generation. This rate of population loss is almost three times above that which qualifies a species as Critically Endangered.

The IUCN said there were likely fewer than 5,000 Eastern Gorillas remaining.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
A Familiy of Eastern Lowland Gorillas lingering around the family leader, or 'Silverback', in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Hunting represents the greatest threat to the Eastern Gorilla, followed by loss and fragmentation of habitat, 20 years of displacement following civil unrest and the transmission of human diseases, including respiratory viruses, is also a major concern.

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