The giant panda, one of the symbols of China, is off the endangered list thanks to aggressive conservation efforts.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report released Sunday that the panda is now classified as a “vulnerable” instead of “endangered” species, reflecting its growing numbers in the wild in southern China.
It said the wild panda population jumped to 1,864 in 2014 from 1,596 in 2004, the result of work by Chinese agencies to enforce poaching bans and expand forest reserves.
The Chinese government and the World Wildlife Fund first established the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province in 1980. Wild panda numbers have slowly rebounded as China cracked down on the skin trade and gradually expanded its protected forest areas to now cover 5,400 square miles.
International groups and the Chinese government have worked to save wild pandas and breed them at enormous cost, attracting criticism that money could be better spent saving other animals facing extinction.
But the WWF, whose logo has been a panda since 1961, celebrated the panda’s re-classification, saying it proved that aggressive investment does pay off “when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together”.
China’s State Forestry Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.