Giant panda off endangered list; eastern gorilla 'critically endangered'

Two revered but threatened mammals are experiencing vastly different fates in the wild, scientists say.

Thanks to a rise in available habitat throughout China, the population of giant pandas rose 17% from 2004 to 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said, leading the group to move the panda off of its endangered species list.

The giant panda is now classified as “vulnerable,” CNN reported Monday.

Meanwhile, IUCN downgraded the eastern gorilla, a victim of African civil wars and hunting, to “critically endangered.”

Pandas have been the beneficiaries of an intensive conservation campaign. A nationwide panda census in 2014 found that 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, up from 1,596 a decade earlier, IUCN said in its annual report. Scientists estimate that the total population of pandas could be as high as 2,060.

China banned trading panda skins in 1981. The 1988 Wildlife Protection Law banned poaching and conferred the highest protected status to the animal, CNN reported. China now has 67 reserves that protect about two-thirds of its panda population.

Partnerships between the Chinese government and international conservation groups and zoos have also brought giant pandas to zoos worldwide. Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo last month celebrated the 19th birthday of Tian Tian, a giant male panda born in China in 1997.

Tian Tian is the half-brother of Bai Yun, a 24-year-old female at the San Diego Zoo.

While Chinese reforestation and forest protection efforts are working, the IUCN said, climate change remains a threat to more than one-third of the panda's bamboo habitat.

IUCN said the eastern gorilla, which lives in mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, has been a victim of the region's civil wars.

Hunting has also contributed to a 70% decline in the past 20 years, IUCN said. The eastern gorilla population is estimated at fewer than 5,000, moving it from “endangered” to “critically endangered.”


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