Few animals have become as synonymous with wildlife conservation as the giant panda. Its distinctive black and white body graces the logo of the World Wide Fund for Nature, and whenever it successfully breeds in captivity, it makes headlines and draws visitors. And now, it seems that all the attention that’s been poured into saving this adorable bear is working.
In its latest update, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has downgraded the giant panda from “endangered” to merely “vulnerable”. That’s one level down in the rankings from its Red List of Threatened Species—its master register of all things screwed and about to be screwed.
The new status doesn’t mean that the panda is safe, more that its situation isn’t as imminently dire as it was before. It’s still threatened, but it has more time before extinction comes knocking. Still, you take your victories where you can get them in conservation, and the panda’s new grade is a rare spot of good news. It suggests that all the effort poured into saving this species is paying off, and it adds to debates about whether that effort has been worth it.
To some commentators, the giant panda represents “possibly one of the grossest wastes of conservation money in the last half century.” Millions of dollars have poured into breeding programs despite the animal’s legendary reluctance to breed in zoos, and for what? The zoo-born individuals may be unable to survive in the wild, and there may be little wild for them to survive in. Reintroducing them, said Lu Zhi from Beijing University in 2012, was as “pointless as taking off the pants in order to fart.”