Giant pandas have been removed from China’s critically endangered species list after more than three decades of conservation efforts to save them. With about 1,800 individuals now living in the wild, the giant panda species is now classified as vulnerable.
Cui Shuhong, the head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said at a press conference on Wednesday that the new classification comes after Beijing carried out some major activities and measures to protect biodiversity and achieved remarkable results.
Shuhong also gave credit to stricter law enforcement, including ramped up efforts to prevent illegal activities on nature reserves.
“China has established a relatively complete nature reserves system,” said Shuhong. “Large areas of natural ecosystems have been systematically and completely protected, and wildlife habitats have been effectively improved.”
Becky Shu Chen of the Zoological Society of London told NBC News that in most of the Chinese nature reserves are so huge that there are still villages populated with humans inside of them. She noted that the government taught villagers farming techniques that did not destroy the giant panda’s natural habitat.
According to Chen, the villagers protected the home of pandas, which is one of the reasons that they are now downgraded to vulnerable.
Giant pandas were initially moved off the IUCN endangered species list five years ago, but this move was not supported by Chinese officials, who said the animals were still at risk of extinction.
“If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the populations and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements would be quickly lost,” the administration told the Associated Press in 2016. “Therefore, we’re not being alarmist by continuing to emphasize the panda species’ endangered status.”
According to the IUCN, giant pandas are still threatened by climate change in the decades to come. More than 35 percent of their bamboo habitat is projected to be destroyed in the next 80 years.