A leading conservationist announced Tuesday that it is too early to downgrade the giant panda’s conservation status fearing that the change might affect conservation efforts. Zhang Hemin's statement comes shortly after the Chinese government’s State Forestry Administration said Monday that the change in status comes “too soon.”
On Sunday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reclassified the black-and-white bears after their numbers grew by 17 percent between 2004 and 2014. Close to 2,060 giant pandas exist today, the IUCN said.
China’s valiant efforts in conserving the creatures indigenous to the country paid off as by the end of 2015, the country boasted of nearly 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, compared to the 1,100 in 2000, and 422 in captivity. China had used the animal to improve diplomatic ties with other nations by either gifting nations with pandas or lending them to international zoos.
Zhang, popularly called the "father of pandas" in China, reportedly called the downgraded status a hasty move.
“A severely fragmented natural habitat still threatens the lives of pandas; genetic transfer between different populations will improve, but is still not satisfactory,” Zhang, who heads the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, said late Tuesday. “Climate change is widely expected to have an adverse effect on the bamboo forests which provide both their food and their home. And there is still a lot to be done in both protection and management terms.”
He added that the wild giant pandas faced a lack of genetic diversity as they were broken up into 33 isolated groups, some of which had less than 10 members. Of the 18 groups that had fewer than 10 pandas, all faced “a high risk of collapse,” Zhang said.
Zhang added that the animal can be termed less endangered only when the wild population grew in its numbers without the addition of those bred in captivity. “The present protection achievements will be lost and some small sub-populations may die out,” he said.
Meanwhile, the State Forestry Administration said in a statement issued Monday, “If you lower the level of protection, there might be neglect, the giant panda population and habitats will suffer irreversible losses, the achievements we’ve made so far will be lost, and smaller populations [of giant pandas] could face extinction without warning.”
The species, which was once found all over southern and eastern China and in neighboring Myanmar and northern Vietnam, is now confined to 20 isolated patches of bamboo forests in China’s Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.