The giant panda, historically a symbol for animal conservation, is now no longer considered an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN recently reported that the giant panda population has improved well enough to the point where the animal is no longer endangered and can be downgraded to “vulnerable” status. The IUCN released this information in an update to their Red List of Threatened Species this last Sunday, September 4th.

Giant Panda
Photo by Photocapy, Flickr

Giant panda conservation efforts seeing results

In China, a nationwide census in 2014 found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, excluding panda cubs. This is an increase from the last census conducted in 2004, which found 1,596 pandas in the wild, according to the IUCN. If the cubs are taken into account, the count approaches 2,060 wild pandas. According to the report, the increase in panda population is due to higher levels of forest protection and reforestation measures, which in turn has increased the available habitat for the cuddly species.

“The decision to downlist the giant panda to ‘vulnerable’ is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” read the IUCN’s assessment.

Once widespread throughout southern China, the species is greatly revered in the country’s culture. The first assessment of the giant panda made by the IUCN in 1965 described the species as “very rare but believed to be stable or increasing.”

The giant panda is a symbol for worldwide conservation

The giant panda has, for the past few decades, been the focus on an intensive, high-profile conservation campaign to recover endangered species ever since the 1970s, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The organization has also used a giant panda’s likeness as its logo since 1961.

“For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF,” said the general director of the WWF, Marco Lambertini. “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.”

Years and years of conservation efforts have included the banning of giant panda poaching (their hides were considered a prized commodity) as well as creating a new panda reserve system, which drastically increased the specie’s available habitats. According to CNN, there are now 67 reserves in China that protect nearly 5,400 square miles of habitat and around 67 percent of the entire Chinese panda population.

China has also partnered with several international conservation organizations that have spread conservancy efforts as well as breeding programs. Just this June, a healthy male giant panda cubs was born in a Belgian zoo.

While no longer endangered, the giant panda is still at risk

“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,” said Lambertini.

While it is no longer endangered, the giant panda is not completely safe, however. Decreasing bamboo availability combined with climate change have the potential to reverse these gains made in the past several decades, warned the IUCN. Additionally, more than one-third of the giant panda’s bamboo habitat could potentially disappear in the next 80 years.

Due to the continued threat to the species, the giant panda will continue to be seen as a “conservation-dependent species for the foreseeable future,” said the IUCN.