Are wild Giant pandas still endangered?
By Jake Owens, Ph.D
Part 1 of 3:
In late 2016 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the conservation status of giant pandas from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable”. What does this mean for panda conservation? Two things:
- Wild giant pandas are still greatly threatened and in need of help.
- There’s progress to build on and with serious effort we have a chance to save pandas in the wild for future generations.
The IUCN, an international group with more than 1200 government and nongovernment members, recommends conservation priorities based on scientific evidence. It uses specific criteria to produce a “Red List” (www.iucnredlist.org) which identifies three categories of “Threatened species”:
- Vulnerable – at high risk of endangerment in the wild
- Endangered – at high risk of extinction in the wild
- Critically Endangered – at extremely high risk of extinction in the wild
In the case of giant pandas, the IUCN recognized recent progress in avoiding their extinction in the wild, but still found wild giant pandas to be at high risk of endangerment. The IUCN criteria categorize a species as “Endangered” if it exists in no more than 5 locations, or has fewer than 2500 adults and a population size that has decreased by 20% or more in the past 10 years or three generations.
While there are less than 1900 wild pandas in the world rather than 2500, they exist in 6 locations in China and appear to have stabilized their numbers in recent years. Applying its criteria, IUCN decided pandas were now “Vulnerable” rather than “Endangered”. It is appropriate to recognize progress in avoiding extinction in the wild, but we should all recognize that wild pandas are still very much at risk.