Giant pandas are no longer endangered, thanks to conservation efforts, China says

(CNN) – The giant pandas are no longer in danger of extinction, Chinese authorities have said, after decades of work to save them and which helped boost their population in the wild to 1,800.

The species will be reclassified as vulnerable, Cui Shuhong, director of the Department of Natural Ecological Protection at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

China has spent half a century trying to increase the population of its famous animals, creating extensive panda reserves in various mountain ranges in an effort to save them from extinction.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) removed them from the endangered list in 2016, but Chinese officials did not initially reflect that decision.

“China has established a relatively comprehensive nature reserve system,” Cui said Wednesday when announcing the move. “Large areas of natural ecosystems have been systematically and comprehensively protected, and wildlife habitats have been effectively enhanced.”

Efforts to increase the number of giant pandas in recent decades have been successful.

Cui added that the populations of some other rare and endangered species are also gradually recovering. “The number of species such as Siberian tigers, Amur leopards, Asian elephants and crested ibis has increased significantly,” he said.

Giant pandas are difficult to breed, as females can only get pregnant for 24 to 72 hours a year.

Panda recovers and returns to its habitat 0:34

Since the 1970s, Chinese officials have worked a high-profile campaign to increase their numbers. To counter habitat loss, officials created specially designed nature reserves in areas where their main food source, bamboo, is abundant.

In 2017, China announced plans for a 27,000-square-kilometer reserve, three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

Pandas are known in China as an umbrella species, meaning that experts believe that measures to protect them would help protect other species, as well as the larger ecosystem.

But successful efforts to increase the panda population may have been at the expense of some carnivores.

Several carnivorous populations have seen their numbers drop dramatically over the past few decades, potentially putting the larger ecosystem at risk, according to a study published last year by a joint team from China and the United States.

CNN’s Jessie Yeung contributed reporting.

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