LOS ANGELES - The Chinese government is objecting to an international conservation group's decision to remove giant pandas from its endangered-species list.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature said this week that it had reclassified the giant panda in its Red List of Threatened Species. The animal is no longer "endangered," but is still "vulnerable," the organization said.
The Swiss-based IUCN credited China's enforcement of anti-poaching regulations and expansion of forest reserves for the giant pandas' population growth, but Chinese officials are not entirely happy about the attention. They said the black-and-white pandas were still endangered.
“If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the population and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss, and our achievements could be quickly lost,” China’s State Forestry Administration said in a statement.
The Chinese government and the World Wildlife Fund established the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China’s Sichuan province in 1980, when the world's giant panda population had declined to fewer than 1,000 because of poaching and deforestation. The latest report from the IUCN indicated there were now at least 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, up from fewer than 1,600 12 years ago.
China has 67 panda reserves, a network similar to the U.S. national park system, and those reserves have been credited with a large part of the pandas' population boom.
Marc Brody, senior adviser for conservation and sustainable development at the Wolong reserve, said he was skeptical about the IUCN's review of the panda population.
"It is too early to conclude that pandas are actually increasing in the wild," Brody said at the World Conservation Congress this week in Hawaii, a meeting organized once every four years by the IUCN. "Perhaps we are simply getting better at counting wild pandas."
"While the Chinese government deserves credit and support for recent progress in management of both captive and wild giant pandas ... there is no justifiable reason to downgrade the listing from endangered to threatened," he added. "Panda habitat is in fact decreasing from ongoing fragmentation from highway construction, active tourism development in Sichuan province, and other human economic activities."
Taking a separate tack, the IUCN warned that environmental risks might well reduce the giant pandas' population markedly in the future. The international group estimated that climate change could eliminate more than 35 percent of the bears' habitat in China by the end of this century.
The conservation organization's Red List includes 82,954 species of plants and animals; of those, 23,928 are threatened with extinction.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.