A species is endangered when its population becomes so small there is the danger of extinction. Realizing the value of wildlife, many countries have special laws for endangered species including hunting bans and habitat protection.
A species which is considered vulnerable is any species which is likely to become endangered in the near future unless the circumstances which are threatening its survival improve.
Extinction is when a species no longer exists. The usual reason a species becomes endangered is the destruction of its natural habitat so that migration and mating patterns are disrupted and normal food supplies are diminished. In many cases, uncontrolled and illegal hunting or “poaching” have contributed to the problem.
No. Giant Pandas were classified as an endangered species in the 1980’s but were recently upgraded to a vulnerable status. They are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals. The United States’ Endangered Species Act protects the Giant Panda, as does the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
Giant Pandas are vulnerable primarily due to either loss or fragmentation of their habitat from human activities, but they face other unique threats as well. The Giant Panda faces challenges with mating success, digestive illnesses, and maintaining a reliable and plentiful food supply. For example, in addition to the occasional “die off” of bamboo, the main food source for the Giant Panda, the catastrophic earthquake of 2008 severely damaged both habitat and food supply.
The environment or ecosystem where an animal lives is called its habitat. The giant panda’s habitat was once widespread over southern and eastern China, Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma), but their habitat has been greatly reduced over time. Today their habitat is limited to the mountains in only a few provinces of southwestern China. Most are in the Sichuan Province, but they are also found in Shaanxi and Gansu Provinces. Their range is along the eastern rim of the Tibetan Plateau.
In addition to living in the wild, there are many pandas being cared for in captivity throughout the world.
The current estimate is only about 1,864 pandas in the wild. In addition, there are approximately 600 pandas in captivity.
While zoos play many roles in helping the giant panda, including captive breeding and research, one of the greatest benefits zoos offer is increasing public awareness about the plight of the giant panda.
In the 1940’s, the Chinese government began conservation efforts to protect the giant pandas. In 1963, the China Research & Conservation Center for the Giant Panda at the Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province, was established. Today there are a total of 40 panda reserves across southwestern China. These reserves protect not only the giant pandas, but the entire ecosystem including the red panda, the golden monkeys, takin (a goat like animal) and many other smaller species.
Since the Chinese government has instituted strict laws protecting the giant panda, poaching has become very rare. However, with people moving deeper and deeper into the pandas’ territories and clearing away the much needed bamboo, people are the direct cause of the panda’s declining numbers. Not only is the loss of their food source a critical problem but the fragmentation of their habitat has also made it increasingly difficult for giant pandas to find mating partners. Because human activity has created pockets of habitat for the wild pandas, they are essentially living in isolated “islands” that prevent them from roaming and mingling with other giant pandas.
Protection of their habitat and food source is critical. In addition, continued research on reducing digestive illness and perfecting breeding success is an important part in saving the giant panda.
The full impact of the 2008 earthquake is still being assessed. We do know that one panda died in the earthquake; one is missing and presumed dead; one who needed medical care died because the roads were impassable at the time; the Wolong Center was damaged beyond repair and had to be rebuilt in a different location and the bamboo forest was crushed under mountainous landslides of rock and mud. A report by the Chinese Academy of Sciences released in July 2009, found that in the area studied about 25% of the habitat was “bare ground.”
Pandas have survived for centuries, even surviving the ice age; so it would tragic if they became extinct now during our lifetime and be known only through books and museums. We know that the decline of the giant panda is not part of the “natural process,” but is due primarily to habitat destruction. Since humans are responsible for the disruption, humans should be socially responsible and attempt to save them from extinction. Most importantly, there is interdependence among of all living creatures and their habitats. Healthy plants and animal species are the foundation for healthy ecosystems. When a species becomes endangered it is an indicator that the health of the ecosystem is declining. Losing one component of the ecosystem can trigger the loss of other plant and animal species. Click here to see an essay on Why Save the Giant Panda
The future of the giant panda is linked to aggressive conservation efforts, successful captive breeding programs and assuring a sustainable habitat. The people of China understand that the giant panda is their “National Treasure” and they often bring sick or injured pandas to the reserves for treatment. Both the people and the government are learning the economic value of the panda in terms of tourism and travel to China.
Pandas International was founded in 2000 by Suzanne Braden and Diane Rees following a trip to China and a visit to the Wolong Panda Center. Both women left China knowing that the pandas needed help. Pandas International was formed to inform people about the plight of the pandas and to raise money to fund the panda centers in their attempt to preserve this magnificent species.
Pandas International supports the China Conservation & Research Center for the Giant Panda and has an education program to help everyone become aware of the pandas vulnerable status. To see a complete list of what Pandas International provides, see our Program Areas.