Why pandas are endangered?
It’s pretty common knowledge that pandas, also known as giant pandas, are in danger of becoming extinct.
If you ask the average person to name one endangered species, most will mention the panda as the first endangered animal that comes to mind.
Pandas are famous for their almost cartoon-like cuteness and their unique black and white coloring. But pandas have struggled to survive for many years now. And sadly this is due to humans and the negative effects our actions have had on the panda’s habitat.
But are pandas actually endangered?
And if pandas are endangered, what led to that? Below you’ll learn everything you need to know about pandas and their status as an endangered species.
Are pandas even endangered?
Giant pandas, also simply called pandas, were first considered endangered in 1990. After many years of being on the endangered list and a lot of work from conservationists, pandas are no longer considered “endangered”.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), pandas have been upgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” which has not been an easy feat.
This means that after years of declining numbers, in September of 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that pandas are no longer officially considered “endangered” following a population growth of over 17% over the previous decade.
While this doesn’t mean that they aren’t at risk, it certainly means things are looking up.
As said best by Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF-China, “Everyone should celebrate this achievement. But pandas remain scattered and vulnerable, and much of their habitat is threatened by poorly planned infrastructure projects. Remember, there are still only 1,864 left in the wild.”
How many pandas are left in the world?
There are an estimated 1,864 pandas left in the world according to the WWF. This number is up pretty significantly from the 1,114 that were in China back in the ’80s.
So while pandas are no longer on the endangered list, they’re not out of the woods yet.
Getting this number to increase has been an enormous effort by the Chinese government, local communities, WWF, and nature reserve staff over the last 30 years.
However, their work is not done, and the long term future of the panda is not yet considered secure.
Why are these cute creatures are endangered in the first place?
While outlined above that the Panda is no longer officially considered endangered, but instead considered “vulnerable,” that doesn’t mean that pandas are safe by any means.
Starting in 1981, there have been huge efforts put forth by the Chinese government and the World Wide Fund to save the pandas.
But what caused pandas to be endangered in the first place?
It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to hurt these giant, gentle creatures, but poaching in the 1980’s was one of the reasons that giant pandas numbers started to decline.
Poaching is nowhere near as popular today as it has been in the past. However, back in the ‘80s people were poaching pandas for the use of their fur and meat.
Luckily, due to the development of strict laws, public awareness of the cruelty of fur, and the panda’s protected status this rarely happens anymore. However, as recently as 2015, three people were prosecuted in China for killing a giant panda and selling its meat.
So, while it’s rare, it seems that it still happens on occasion.
The number one reason that pandas landed on the endangered species list is because of habitat loss due to humans using their forests as a resource.
Logging, the act of harvesting trees so that the wood can be sold, in forests where pandas reside caused their numbers to rapidly decline as the forest they called home were destroyed.
In addition, forests cleared for agriculture or development to meet the areas growing population also became a clear reason that pandas were losing their homes.
Although the Chinese government banned logging in the panda’s habitat in 1998, fragmentation continues. Fragmenting of the panda’s forests happens when new roads and railways are built cutting through the region.
This not only eliminates part of their forest but also isolates pandas and prevents them from being in contact and being able to breed.
In addition, this limits the panda’s ability to go out and find bamboo, their source of food.
Harvesting and tourism
Though not as big of a threat, harvesting as well as tourism also disturb the forests where pandas reside. For example, in the Minshan Mountains, there are over 5,000 plant species, many of which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
While harvesting these medicinal plants is extremely helpful to humans for medicinal healing and income, it puts pressure on the fragile forests that the pandas call home.
Additionally, the increasing number of tourists visiting the forests, and the construction of tourist facilities, also cause quite the disturbance to pandas and their habitat.
What is being done to save the pandas?
One of the first big initiatives to help save the pandas was when the Chinese government banned logging in panda habitats in 1998.
This helped to halt the rapid decline of the forests that pandas called home, the main reason that they were disappearing at such a quick rate.
There are currently 67 panda reserves within China that are protected areas for pandas. Within these reserves are several that breed pandas in captivity to increase their numbers. There are also facilities within these reserves that care for sick or injured pandas in order to bring them back to health.
Additionally, there is a lot of education being done of the general public, along with specific conservation efforts being done by local communities as well as organizations like the WWF to help bring the panda’s numbers back up and help them survive.
So while pandas are no longer considered endangered, they are still vulnerable. The efforts being put forth by conservationists must continue if we want to continue to see their numbers in the wild grow for the best chance of their long term survival.