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Giant panda off endangered species list, but Eastern gorilla declining

The giant panda has been taken off the endangered species list after decades of conservation efforts.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the panda’s status from endangered to vulnerable in its most recent Red List of threatened species.

China’s giant panda survey last year found that the species’ numbers had risen 17 percent in the past decade, with 1,864 adults living in the wild. The IUCN estimates that adding giant panda cubs to that number brings the total population to about 2,060.

The World Wildlife Fund, whose logo is a giant panda, praised the news as a great moment for conservationists.

“The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” World Wildlife Fund Director General Marco Lambertini said.

The giant panda has been endangered since 1990, and the IUCN points to forest protection and reforestation as the main reason for its comeback.

The group warns, though, that climate change could eliminate more than 35 percent of the animal’s habitat in the next 80 years, causing a population drop.

The most recent Red List also contained bad news for the Eastern gorilla, which was placed on the critically endangered list.

The IUCN said its population has dropped more than 70 percent in 20 years. There are now fewer than 5,000 Eastern gorillas in the wild.

“To see the Eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said in a statement.

The Eastern gorilla’s habitat includes forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, which have been war zones in recent years

The wars have hit the Grauer’s gorilla, one of two subspecies of the Eastern gorilla, particularly hard. The Grauer’s gorilla population dropped from 16,900 in 1994 to 3,800 in 2015.

The other subspecies, the mountain gorilla, has been faring better. Its population has increased to about 880 thanks to conservation efforts like those at the Virunga National Park.