Latest extinction rankings are great for pandas, terrible for apes

5 Sep 2016

While wild panda populations are climbing again (up 17pc since 2004), most great ape species are incredibly close to extinction.

Giant pandas are no longer endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), after a population increase moved them away from the dangerous end of the list.

Effective forest protection and reforestation “confirms” that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective, according to IUCN.

Future Human

Panda Ape Gorilla

At the end of this fourth survey of pandas in the past 50 years, the rise is welcome news following worrying declines in the past.

In 1974-77, there were around 2,459 pandas in the wild. That halved by 1985-88 (1,216), before 2000-04 produced 1,596. Now, with the official count at 1,864, it’s thought that, including cubs, the true number of giant pandas in the wild is in excess of 2,000.

“The giant panda will remain a conservation-dependent species for the foreseeable future,” said the IUCN. “The Chinese government’s plans to expand existing conservation policy for the species should receive strong support to ensure its implementation.”

Other animals with population climbs include the bridled nail rail wallaby, the greater stick-nest rat and the tibetan antelope.

The good news ends there, with the great apes now at their most critically endangered in history.

Gorillas are on the outs. Image via Shutterstock

Gorillas are on the outs. Image via Shutterstock

Four out of six great ape species are now considered critically endangered – only one step away from going extinct – with the remaining two also under considerable threat of extinction.

The eastern gorilla is one of the unlucky four, with populations declining by 70pc in the past two decades.

With a total population estimated to be below 5,000 across both its subspecies, there are now around 3,800 eastern lowland gorillas (down 77pc). Mountain gorilla numbers actually rising, though still come in at just 880.

The other three apes facing extinction are the western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan. The chimpanzee and bonobo are the only two faring better, though each is listed as endangered.

“To see the eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN’s director general.

“We live in a time of tremendous change, and each IUCN Red List update makes us realise just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating.

“Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet.”

Orangutans are just about hanging in

Orangutans are just about hanging in. Image via Shutterstock

Elsewhere the plains zebra’s numbers have dropped by around one-quarter in the past 14 years, though there still exist around half-a-million in the wild.

Three species of antelope found in Africa – bay duiker, white-bellied duiker and yellow-backed duiker – have moved from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near Threatened’.

“Illegal hunting and habitat loss are still major threats driving many mammal species towards extinction,” said Carlo Rondinini, coordinator of the mammal assessment at Sapienza University of Rome.

“We have now reassessed nearly half of all mammals. While there are some successes to celebrate, this new data must act as a beacon to guide the conservation of those species which continue to be under threat.”

Main panda image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic