Giant pandas' status downgraded from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable'

Good news for fans of animals: one of nature's cutest critters, the giant panda, is officially no longer recognized as an endangered species. This announcement comes from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which clarifies, however, that the animals are still considered "vulnerable" to extinction due to the threat of climate change. In other words, the current state of giant pandas is improving, but they're not out of the fire yet.

At the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii this past weekend, the IUCN revealed that the improved status of giant pandas is a result of increased conservation efforts in China, where the animal is a national icon. The country's government has made progress in the last few years, increasing the number of giant pandas in the wild by 17%, with now over 2,000 individuals in existence.

Two major factors contributing to the rise in population are stricter measures against poaching, and an increase in bamboo forest space. But as giant pandas' diet only consists of bamboo, the IUCN says the next 80 years or so see a great threat from climate change, which could reduce bamboo forests by roughly a third.

"Whereas the decision to downlist the giant panda to vulnerable is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government's efforts to conserve this species are effective, it is critically important that these protective measures are continued, and that emerging threats are addressed."

SOURCE: IUCN, New York Times