Giant pandas are no longer considered an endangered species in the wild after conservation efforts caused numbers to rise – but they are still considered vulnerable, Chinese authorities said.
The wild panda population has risen to 1,800 and its growth rate has grown from 1.04 per cent to 12 per cent in the last 20 years, the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base said. .
Their new status "reflects their improved living conditions and China’s efforts in keeping their habitats integrated,” said Cui Shuhong, the Head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation.
The move from China comes five years after the International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the status of wild pandas from endangered to vulnerable.
Chinese wildlife experts at the time said they were still concerned about threats to the species.
China has implemented an extensive conservation programme to revive the giant panda population
China has brought the animals back from the brink through a programme to recreate and extend bamboo forests, which provide pandas with their main food source. Giant pandas eat up to 38kg of bamboo every day.
Bamboo forests were slowly depleted across southern and eastern China throughout the 20th century as human development and agriculture expanded.
Giant pandas are a national icon in China and have been utilised by the state as a diplomatic tool since the 1950s. China charges more than £700,000 per panda to loan them out to zoos in other nations.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the reclassification of the giant panda was “great news” and reflected the fact that "The concept that lush mountains and clear water are worth their weight in gold and silver has taken root among the public in China.”
The UK has two giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo, which may have to be moved this year after a ten-year loan deal between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the Bifengxia Breeding Centre comes to an end.