China's wild panda population up nearly 17%

(Susan Walsh, AP)
(Susan Walsh, AP)

Beijing - China's population of wild giant pandas jumped nearly 17% over a decade, state media reported, with conservation measures credited as being behind the increase.

An investigation by the State Forestry Administration (SFA) found that by the end of 2013 China had 1 864 giant pandas alive in the wild, marking an increase of 268 individuals, or 16.8%, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

The figures compared with a previous survey carried out in 2003, Xinhua said.

The SFA said conservation efforts led to the increase, according to Xinhua.

Habitat

Besides population, panda habitat also increased 11.8% to 2.58 million hectares compared with the 2003 survey, Xinhua said.

China had 375 giant pandas in captivity at the end of 2013, the report said, with 166 males and 209 females.

The total figure marked a gain of 211, or 128.7%, compared with 2003, Xinhua said, citing SFC figures.

The report also said that as of June last year there were 42 pandas, including adults and cubs, overseas in 12 countries.

China has cultivated a global fascination with pandas into its diplomacy by sending the animals to overseas zoos where they have proven a wildly popular draw.

'Victory for conservation'

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the increase in the giant panda numbers.

"The rise in the population of wild giant pandas is a victory for conservation and definitely one to celebrate," Ginette Hemley, WWF senior vice president of wildlife conservation, said in a release.

"This increase in the population of wild giant pandas is a testament to the commitment made by the Chinese government for the last 30-plus years to wild panda conservation," Hemley added.

Pandas, whose natural habitat lies in mountainous southwestern China, have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss.

Underscoring continuing worries, however, the SFC survey showed that 223 of the wild giant pandas, or 12% of the population, were classified as high risk, Xinhua said.

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