The latest update to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has revealed both good and bad news for the animal kingdom.
First, the good news. Thanks to an increase in available habitat, the population of giant pandas has witnessed a rebound over the past decade. As a result, the animal has been taken off the “endangered” list and is now listed as “vulnerable.”
“Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats,” Marco Lambertini, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement. “The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity.”
According to the latest nationwide estimate, there were 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild in China in 2014 — up from roughly 1,600 in 2004.
“The improved status confirms that the Chinese government's efforts to conserve this species are effective,” IUCN said in a statement. “However, climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35 percent of the Panda's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years and thus Panda population is projected to decline, reversing the gains made during the last two decades.”
For the eastern gorilla — the world’s largest primate that inhabits the mountainous forests of eastern Congo, northwest Rwanda and southwest Uganda — the prognosis is even less cheerful. One of its two subspecies — Grauer’s gorilla — which was previously listed as “endangered,” has now been put on the “critically endangered” list.
IUCN estimates that only 3,800 of Grauer’s gorilla now remain — a 77 percent drop in just 20 years. This fall is largely due to habitat loss caused by violence in Rwanda and illegal hunting for bushmeat.
“To see the Eastern gorilla — one of our closest cousins — slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said in the statement. “We live in a time of tremendous change and each IUCN Red List update makes us realize just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating. Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet.”
The reclassification means that four of the world’s six great ape species — eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan — are now just one step from being extinct in the wild, while the other two — the chimpanzee and bonobo — are endangered.
The IUCN Red List now includes 82,954 species, of which nearly 24,000 are threatened with extinction.