By the mercy of some higher power, the giant panda — an oversized mashup between a raccoon and a sloth whose offspring can’t shit on their own — is no longer endangered. At a meeting of the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii this weekend, experts took giant pandas off the IUCN’s official Red List, citing a population rebound in China.
That’s right: thanks to a concerted effort on the part of the Chinese government to prevent its national icon from dying, the population of giant pandas in the wild has increased some 17 per cent in recent years, reaching over 2,000 individuals for the first time in decades. The rebound, which has now seen pandas officially reclassified as “vulnerable”, can be attributed to an increase in the amount of bamboo forest, and stricter anti-poaching measures.
“Just by restoring the panda’s habitat, that’s given them back their space and made food available to them,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List, told the BBC.
But the future for giant pandas is by no means secure. As the Washington Post noted last spring, while the amount of panda-friendly bamboo forest has indeed increased, new habitats are patchy, isolated, and can only support a few dozen individuals each. Of the 33 separate panda populations that existed in China as of 2015, eighteen had fewer than ten individuals and faced a “high risk of extinction”. China is attempting to solve this problem with new wildlife reserves, but its own panda experts aren’t sure that they’ve made enough progress yet to merit a reclassification.
What’s more, as climate change progresses, roughly a third of the potential bamboo habitat available for pandas is expected to disappear.
Still, any conservation success stories ought to be applauded this day and age, if only to remind us that human being do have the capacity to effect positive change in the natural world. And while some of my colleagues have argued that we should just let pandas die already, I’d like to submit this video, of Chinese zookeepers donning naff panda onesies and spraying them with actual panda urine, as proof that love don’t come easy, and that anybody who wants to give up on the animal behind world’s most adorable sushi roll is a monster. [BBC]