Conservation efforts in China have paid off. The country announced on Wednesday that, after decades of work, the giant panda species is no longer endangered as more than 1,800 of the animals now live in the wild.
“The living conditions of China’s rare and endangered species have seen notable improvements amid the country’s active efforts on biodiversity protection and ecological restoration,” China’s State Council Information Office wrote on Thursday. “Rare and endangered species, such as the wild giant panda, Tibetan antelope and milu deer are living in better environments.”
By the end of 2020, the giant panda population had increased to 1,864, according to the country’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
According to the state information office, an official for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Cui Shuhong, said at a press conference Wednesday that the improved biodiversity is the result of China’s efforts to create nature reserves. At least 25% of the country’s land has been designated for ecological protection, according to China’s State Council Information Office.
Wild giant pandas, according to the World Wildlife Fund, primarily live in China’s Yangtze river basin, but the development of dams, roads and other infrastructure over the years has obstructed their environment, limiting their living space and access to bamboo, a critical part of their diet.
Cui also said that forest and wetland protection initiatives and a fishing ban in the river basin have all helped recover rare and endangered species. The country is working to further develop methods to monitor biodiversity and to increase local and international cooperation in their conservation efforts, Cui said.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature had previously upgraded giant pandas to “vulnerable” in September 2016 after their population grew nearly 17% within a decade, but until now, China had not agreed with their designation.
The country’s State Forestry Administration told the Associated Press at the time that they disagreed because wild pandas still lived in small, isolated groups that were struggling to reproduce.
“If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the populations and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements would be quickly lost,” the forestry administration had said in a statement provided to the AP. “Therefore, we’re not being alarmist by continuing to emphasize the panda species’ endangered status.”