Editorial: Downlisting pandas was premature—species is still very much endangered
In September 2016 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature made a huge announcement: the giant panda, previously listed as an endangered species, had been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable. This news, covered by media around the world, was based in part on 2015 data presented by the Chinese State Forestry Administration that panda populations had risen to an estimated 1,864 wild individuals. While this action was lauded as an example of bringing a conservation icon back from the brink of extinction, we argue that the downlisting was premature and ill-advised.
Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) now occupy only small fragments of their historic range, fragments left in the wake of human population expansion, attendant land-use change and road construction. Other threats include natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides and ongoing climatic change, which is shifting the range of pandas’ preferred bamboo species, accelerating the flowering and aging of bamboo and simultaneously enhancing outbreaks of herbivorous insects. Indeed, wild pandas now are isolated only on six mountains in Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces.