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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
China finds more wild pandas
giant pandas (file picture)
China says its conservation measures are bearing fruit
The world's most famous endangered species, the Chinese giant panda, appears to be in much better shape than previously thought.

The Chinese government has released the results of the most comprehensive survey of giant pandas ever.

It found that there were around 1,600 of the creatures left in the wild, 40% more than previous figures.

But the numbers may reflect the fact that the survey was so thorough, rather than a genuine recovery in numbers.

"Because of improved census methods, we have a more accurate count of how many there are in the wild, where they are, and the state of the habitat on which they depend," said World Wildlife Fund China's (WWF) James Harkness.

"The results of the survey will be used to help ensure that over the next few years we make even greater strides to protect this rare and precious animal."

Vanishing fast

Just 15 years ago, many environmentalists were predicting the giant panda's imminent demise. They topped China's list for rare animals under special protection in 1962.

Its bamboo forests in western China were disappearing fast, and only 1,000 pandas were thought to be left in the wild.

The latest survey, China's third since the 1970s, represents a huge success for China's conservation efforts.

It has been far more comprehensive than previous studies. It covered a wider area of western China, and used much more sophisticated surveillance technologies.

The pandas were tracked through their droppings, and their distribution as well as population density was mapped.

Fur threat

China now has 40 panda reserves compared with 13 only 20 years ago.

At least 95% of giant pandas in the wild are protected.

Even though the news that there are more pandas surviving in the wild than previously thought is positive, it does not mean that the giant panda is out of danger, let alone that its population is on the road to recovery.

Deforestation and poaching by fur trappers continued to pose a major threat to their long-term survival, the WWF said.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"Unless humans can give them the space they need these beautiful creatures may still face extinction"

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