HONG KONG - The giant panda may be reclassified from "endangered" to "vulnerable" as the species’ population in the wild increases, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported on Sunday (May 29), citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) was considering changing the universally-loved animal's ranking on its red list of threatened species, the source was cited as saying by the Post.
IUCN is the leading authority on the extinction risk facing the world’s threatened species, and classifies the danger into seven categories. The giant panda was first listed as an endangered species in 1990.
Currently, the panda is deemed at high risk of dying off in the wild, although the review could see it moved down one rung, to “high risk of endangerment”, the source said. A scientific assessment of the giant panda population size and habitat commissioned by the IUCN was completed a year ago, but an official decision has yet to be made.
“Scientifically, the wild population is increasing, and the natural habitat is expanding,” the source said according to the Post.
Last week, the forestry department in China's southern province of Sichuan, the natural home of giant pandas, released figures showing that the number of wild giant pandas in the province had risen 15 per cent in the past 10 years, to 1,387.
The WWF said following the release of the census that panda numbers in the wild had risen nearly 17 per cent since the previous survey in 2003, reported the Post. The wildlife conservation agency credited forestry protection along the upper reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, as well as greater efforts to establish nature reserves, for the increase.
Giant panda's habitat size had also increased by 12 per cent, it said.
Lu Zhi, a professor of conservation biology at Peking University, said however that the encouraging figures belied “fragmentation” threatening the species' habitat, whereby intense human activities cut large swathes of land into smaller and more isolated patches.
“The most pristine habitat is gradually being lost as roads are built into the remote mountains. Even though the overall area of habitat is expanding, we’re actually losing the best ones,” Lu said according to the Post.
“I’d hope any decision will be made very cautiously. It’s better to be conservative than regretful someday.”