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Are Pandas No Longer Endangered ?

On Sep 4 U.S. time, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced an improvement in giant panda’s conservation status from EN (Endangered) to VU (Vulnerable).

In response to the announcement, National Forestry claimed that giant pandas are still an endangered species, and that it is too early to announce an improvement of its conservation status.

Why do IUCN and the National Forestry have different perspectives on panda’s protection status? How should we work on their protection work in China?

Different judgments come under different perspectives. Pandas are still endangered.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the largest and longest-existing global environment protection organization. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species starting since 1963 is regarded as the most recognised benchmark of biodiversity.

As regulated, The National Forestry is to investigate in giant pandas’ existing status and resources every 10 years, and monitor the changes between the investigations. According to the 4th Chinese investigation on the giant pandas announced in early 2015, the wild population had increased to 1,864, 16.8% higher than the previous decade; and the wild habitat had grown 271,604 hectares, a 11.8% increase for a decade. Therefore IUCN theoretically judged that the “uncertainties have been eliminated” for giant pandas, and changed their conservation status from EN to VU.

“IUCN judged according to academic researches. We don’t differentiate in knowing about pandas’ existing status. However, we see the issue in different perspectives that lead to different conclusions,” explained Zhang Ling, Vice Head of Giant Panda Protection, National Forestry. “The National Forestry as a government body, not only has deeply investigated into giant pandas’ nation-wide, but also possesses first-hand experience and information in protection management work. Concluding the conservation conditions and survival hardship faced by the giant pandas, we can say they are still an endangered species. We believe this conclusion is more comprehensive.”

Many factors affect pandas’ survival, causing them to stay “vulnerable” even after the improvement of conservation status.

Under the IUCN Red List system, conservation statuses range from Extinct (EX), Extinct in the Wild (EW), Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Near Threatened (NT), Least Concern (LC), Data Deficient (DD) to Not Evaluated (NE). CR, EN, and VU are jointly categorized as “Threatened”.

Obviously, although IUCN has stated the giant panda as Vulnerable, they are still considered threatened. There are many factors that can alter their survival and development.

As stated in the National Forestry’s report, there are 4 major reasons that combine to account for the giant panda’s status as a threatened species. They are isolation of habitats, unsatisfactory inbreeding phenomenon, global climate change, and protection management ability that has to be strengthened.

Among these, the isolation of habitats exerts the largest influence. “According to the 4th investigation on the giant panda, their habitats have grown in terms of area, and have improved quality. But this is only a general comment. During the investigation, we found that the isolation of habitats is very severe.

Among 33 habitats isolated by natural and artificial interferences, 22 are categorized as risky for extinction, with populations lower than 30. 18 of them are even categorized as highly risky, with populations lower than 10,” claimed Zhang.

“In general, artificial interferences have weakened their influences. Those include 319 hydroelectric power plants, 1,339km of roads, 268.7km of high-voltage power cables, 984 static human settlements of populations greater than 50, 479 mines, and 25 tourist attractions.

Despite the general decrease, certain areas see increases. Other interferences like grazing, transportation, agriculture, fires are even more common.

Furthermore, new interferences keep appearing, such as mountaineering. These cause habitats to shrink or vanish, deteriorating the isolation. An example is the habitat near Dragon Grassland, Qinling, which has retreated 10km to the North due to open tourism. Another example is the vanishing of panda population near Baisha River, south to Qionglai Mountain, due to hydroelectric power plant development. These all explain the difficult situation of giant panda protection.”

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