In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the status of this species from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable”. An increasingly alarming status that increases the risk of extinction of giant pandas from our planet.
Against all odds, voices are raised to denounce the costs, sometimes considered excessive given the few remaining giant pandas and their low birth rate. Currently, the conservation of this species would cost nearly $255 million (US). The Chinese government has invested heavily in giant panda conservation since the 1980s. The Fourth National Giant Panda Survey shows that these efforts are paying off: their habitat area has increased by almost 12%, and the number of pandas has increased by almost 17%, or 1,864 individuals.
The researchers of the study published in Current biology, attempted to financially evaluate these efforts. They valued the value of the ecosystem services of this “umbrella” species – as its conservation benefits other species such as the snow leopard or the golden monkey (Cercopithecus candti) – and 67 reserves in which it is located.
They estimate that the benefits of such conservation are 10 to 27 times the costs that would be required. To reach this conclusion, they took into account conservation services valued at US$2.6–6.9 billion in 2010, to which they added revenues – estimated at US$5 billion a year – from tourism and cultural services. associated with the image of a panda (zoo, toys, soft toys, restaurants, films, etc.)
The challenges are serious when it comes to saving endangered species. And often people working in the field of conservation do not always have the data at hand. This information about the costs and benefits associated with protecting this species allows informed management decisions to be made and real conservation policies to be developed.
Another recent study of giant pandas, reported in Conservation Letters, in turn summarizes their distribution and changes under the conditions of their changing environment. After analyzing almost 70,000 hours of data collection conducted by the Chinese Forestry Administration, the researchers identified the environmental factors contributing to the recovery of the species and the areas avoided by these large mammals.
This study, conducted between 1999 and 2003 and 2011 and 2014, shows that pandas prefer natural areas, untouched forests, and are increasingly using young managed secondary forests for their conservation. Faced with an increase in certain disturbances, mostly human, giant pandas are also migrating to higher areas a little more often than before. Thus, as a result of the collaboration of Chinese and American researchers, the study determines the directions that should be given priority in terms of conservation measures.
Breaking news about giant pandas, researchers would probably find a new line. The lower part of a 22,000-year-old jawbone found in a Chinese cave has just been found to contain DNA belonging to a panda ancestor, but different from what is known. This new ancestor would have split from its cousins 183,000 years ago. This discovery demonstrates that, despite its distinctive appearance, the giant panda was once very diverse.