It is hard to maintain optimism in a world filled with bad news. And with rampant poaching, trafficking, habitat destruction & the likes, wildlife has really taken some serious blows over the last few decades (well century to be more precise). Conservation needed a win, so when the IUCN status of the Giant Panda was downgraded from endangered to vulnerable last month, environmentalists had cause to celebrate. But what does this mean for the species?
Threats to Pandas
The main threat to pandas is the destruction of the bamboo forests which make up their habitat. Logging is one of the primary causes of deforestation but agriculture, infrastructure development, and the harvesting of bamboo for medicinal uses all contribute towards forest fragmentation.
Added pressures such as tourism development and poaching have intensified the problem. These threats together with their slow reproductive rates pushed giant pandas to the brink of extinction.
Although population numbers have increased, it has taken over 30 years to see this slow progress and threats are still rife.
The first panda census was carried out in the 1970’s and estimated a total of 2459 pandas left in the wild. The next survey completed in 1988 reflected a staggering drop in the population with only 1114 pandas estimated. The most recent survey was concluded in 2014 and reflected a total of 1,864 wild pandas, depicting a 17% rise in the last decade.
Giant Panda Conservation
Conservation efforts to protect the giant panda started as early as 1846 when China clamped down on foreign exploitation. This was followed by decades of intensive conservation action raising the profile of the iconic species. Conservation efforts involved:
- Management plans, agreements, laws & policies
- Rigorous census undertakings
- Conservation projects, monitoring programs, & anti-poaching initiatives
- Studies resulting in breakthroughs in the understanding of panda ecology and behavior
- Millions invested in conservation initiatives
- Severe penalties imposed for poaching and illegal trading of derived products
- Land use bans such as banning of logging in natural forests
- Improved communication channels among reserves
- Establishment of panda reserves across China
There are 67 panda reserves in China today. It has taken over 30 years but the species is slowly moving away from the brink of extinction.
While this has been a major victory for pandas, threats are still prevalent and the species is still vulnerable to extinction.
According to WWF, over the next decade conservation efforts will focus on habitat improvement, moving towards balancing conservation efforts with sustainable development and community-based approaches.