Environment

Panda bears are no longer endangered, but many new species are

Panda

Panda Bears have finally been removed from the endangered species list after being used for decades as and example of animals in danger of extinction.

Panda bear

The news is, however, bittersweet, for as Pandas are taken off the list, many other species have been added.

The news broke earlier today over at National Geographic in a report which was based on a statement made by the international body for species protection. It was made public that the Panda has moved from the ‘endangered’ category to the ‘vulnerable’ category on the Red List of Threatened Species, managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The section of the press release entitled Good news for Giant Panda and Tibetan Antelope went on to state several other good news stories relating to conservation:

This update of The IUCN Red List also brings some good news and shows that conservation action is delivering positive results.

Previously listed as Endangered, The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is now listed as Vulnerable, as its population has grown due to effective forest protection and reforestation. The improved status confirms that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective. However, climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35% 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. To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed. The Chinese government’s plan to expand existing conservation policy for the species is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation.

Due to successful conservation actions, the Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) has moved from Endangered to Near Threatened. The population underwent a severe decline from around one million to an estimated 65,000-72,500 in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was the result of commercial poaching for the valuable underfur – shahtoosh – which is used to make shawls. It takes 3-5 hides to make a single shawl, and as the wool cannot be sheared or combed, the animals are killed. Rigorous protection has been enforced since then, and the population is currently likely to be between 100,000 and 150,000.

Other conservation successes include the Greater Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus conditor), endemic to Australia, which has improved status, moving from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. This is due to a successful species recovery plan, which has involved reintroductions and introductions to predator-free areas. This unique nest-building rodent is the last of its kind, with its smaller relative the Lesser Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus apicalis) having died out in the Twentieth Century. The resin created by the rats to build their nests is so strong that they can last for thousands of years if they are not exposed to water.

The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata), has also improved in status, having moved from Endangered to Vulnerable. Endemic to Australia, this once common species had a dramatic population decline during the 19th and early 20th centuries due to the impacts of invasive species and habitat loss. A successful translocation conservation programme establishing new populations within protected areas is enabling this species to commence the long road to recovery.

Yesterday, IUCN, its Species Survival Commission, and nine Red List partner institutions forged an exciting new commitment to support The IUCN Red List. These organizations will jointly commit more than US$10 million over the next five years towards achieving an ambitious strategic plan that aims to double the number of species assessed on The IUCN Red List by the year 2020. The institutions include: Arizona State University; BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation International; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University and the Zoological Society of London.

Whilst this news is definitely worth celebrating, there is a harsh warning concerning the status and numbers of several creatures, including many great apes, rhinos and birds. The new list includes 82,954 species, 23,928 of which are threatened with extinction.

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