China no longer considers giant pandas an endangered species in the wild.
Officials announced Wednesday that successful conservation efforts had increased the iconic animals’ population to 1,800, CNN reported. They are now considered “vulnerable.”
The change “reflects their improved living conditions and China’s efforts in keeping their habitats integrated,” head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation Cui Shuhong said at a press conference reported by BBC News.
The Chinese announcement comes four years after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the giant panda’s status from endangered to vulnerable. However, Chinese officials argued that the move would lead to the reduction of still-needed conservation efforts.
Now, experts and officials say the change is due to China’s efforts to protect and expand the panda’s preferred bamboo forest ecosystem. The country has created large reserves in mountain areas for the animals to roam, CNN reported.
“China has ascertained a relatively complete nature reserves system,” Cui said, as CNN reported. Natural ecosystems have been systematically and completely protected, and wildlife habitats have been improved.”
These conservation measures have improved the outlook for other endangered species as well.
“Species such as Siberian tigers, Amur leopards, Asian elephants, and crested ibises have increased significantly,” Cui added.
The news was widely celebrated on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
“Wonderful, wonderful news,” one user wrote, as The Guardian reported. “It shows all the efforts have been paid off. Well done.”
However, pandas still face threats. The climate crisis could wipe out more than 35 percent of their bamboo forest habitat in the next 80 years, according to the IUCN.
“It’s a good start indeed, but there are still threats to these species,” another Weibo user wrote. “Do not relax.”