The internet can be a very depressing place. Today, though, I opened up CNN to find something good. Something good involving China, no less! Instead of reading about possible nuclear warfare, a rapidly warming planet, and the general devastation that our lust for an easy life is causing, I read about a big fuzzy animal making a comeback from the verge of extinction. Giant Pandas, to be exact.
Pandas were (and still kind of are, despite the upgrade off the endangered species list) in the direst of straits up until just a few years ago. That’s for a few reasons, all of which are thoroughly intertwined. Here they are, in quick and dirty short form: female pandas suck at reproducing. They only have a 2-3 day window in which they can get knocked up. Since humans in general and China specifically have decided that it’s fine to tear up vast tracts of land for our corn and wheat and high rise buildings, pandas were pretty much driven out of house and home. At one point, there were somewhere between 1000 and 2000 giant pandas left in the wild, and none of them were all that successful in finding each other to make that number increase. In 2004, the IUCN estimated that there were 1,596 left.
But China’s been working on it. In the span of a decade–2004 to 2014–the giant panda’s available habitat has been increased and with it, their population. In 2014, the IUCN found 1,864 in the wild, which, while still not very many, is a 17% increase.
China has been working on increasing panda populations for a long, long time. In the ’70s, when it was revealed that there were only about 2,500 left and that number was rapidly decreasing, the country went into panic mode. By 1981, they’d banned the trading of panda skins, then a few years later in 1988 enacted the Wildlife Protection Law. In the ’90s, they created a whole bunch of panda reserves, which, as of the most recent count, include some 1.4 million hectares.
“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 WWF Director General Marco Lambertini.
But they’re not out of the woods (jungle?) yet. Despite the Chinese government’s efforts at reforestation and habitat creation, climate change threatens nearly 40% of bamboo over the next 80-or-so-years, and China is a pretty bad example of what to do when it comes to fighting climate change. So while pandas aren’t endangered anymore, they’re still listed as vulnerable, which isn’t a list any species wants to be on.