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Photo by George Lu

Endangered No Longer: The Giant Panda's Remarkable Recovery

January 25, 2017 | Jian Rzeszewicz

Easily one of the most beloved creatures in existence, the giant panda celebrated a small victory in September of 2016. The cuddly mammal was officially moved from the IUCN’s Red List of “endangered species” to “vulnerable species” thanks to tireless efforts of conservationists campaigning and working on their behalf.

Giant pandas first became endangered in 1990 due to excessive poaching in the 80s and deforestation, depleting their bamboo food source. A fickle species, bamboo can grow extensively in mountainous or barren lands, but then dies in the winter. This forces giant pandas in those areas to relocate for their food. Farmland expansion causes fragmentation of panda habitats, secluding the species to those locations deprived of bamboo and other pandas. China has made several successful attempts to reforest, although efforts such as the infamous Grain-for-Green Program have not yet proven to be definitively effective on all environmental fronts.  Since the 1940s, the Chinese government has worked to conserve giant panda habitat and protect the wildlife within it. Now, 67 panda reserves speckle the country, several of which breed them in captivity and care for the sick or injured. Visitors who come to the reserves are educated about the conservation efforts, and locals in the area also learn about how the giant panda’s tourism draw can benefit the community. The relationship has proven to be symbiotic all around.

According to the last census in 2014, giant pandas populations have undergone a 17% increase since 2003, a huge conservation achievement for the species. The number of pandas found in the wild has now reached 1,864 individuals. Furthermore, the giant panda’s occupied habitat has increased by 11.8%, and useable habitat has increased by 6.3% thanks to reforestation and protective measures. One factor of the dramatic increase in population can be traced back to, surprisingly, a single male panda named Pan Pan. At the ripe age of 31, Pan Pan passed away from cancer late last year, but not before he fathered over 130 pandas – about 25% of all pandas currently in captivity.

While the struggle to preserve the much-loved bear has been an uphill battle for nearly 30 years, there has finally been empirical evidence documenting the progress of its remarkable recovery. As the public’s love for the species continues to grow, so will attempts to ensure its survival.