The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced the positive change to the giant panda’s official status in the Red List of Threatened Species, pointing to the 17 per cent rise in the population in the decade up to 2014, when a nationwide census found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China.
“For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF. Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Director General.
But we need to keep perspective. Something similar is happening with tigers, whose census sizes are finally increasing after a century of continuous decline. But we’re talking bounce back to 4,000! This is still a small and vulnerable population. Genetically, depending on the details of the structure, 100 to 1,000 are probably enough for viability. But genetics isn’t everything. Some random stochastic event (e.g., look at what happened to the Tasmanian devil) could wipe out a few thousand quickly, and we’d be up against our heels.