This past weekend has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the animal kingdom. On one side, experts have announced that the giant panda is no longer considered an endangered species, but on the other side, they announced that eastern Gorillas are now in danger of going extinct.
Both updates on the ongoing fate of these two species come from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which "provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants, fungi and animals that have been globally evaluated using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria," which in turn determines a species' relative risk of extinction.
First, there's the giant panda, which is no longer considered endangered, according to the IUCN's report. Now, it is considered "vulnerable," following an observed 17 percent increase in population between 2004 and 2014.
This increase is the result of a decades-long effort spearheaded by the Chinese government after a census in the 1970s found that there were only around 2,459 pandas in the world. At the time, this decline was attributed to poaching and deforestation, and to counter this, several mandates were launched, such as the banning of the trade of panda skins in 1981 and the enactment of the 1988 Wildlife Protection Law, which banned poaching and conferred the highest protected status to the animal.
As evidenced by the report, those efforts have succeeded as there are 1,864 pandas in the wild in China as of 2014, who now have 5,400 square miles of protected space to thrive in.
However, even with this good news, it seems that giant pandas aren't entirely out of the woods just yet. In a statement, China's State Forestry Administration stated that a single misstep can cause the giant pandas to suffer an "irreversible loss."
"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 forestry administration said. "Therefore, we're not being alarmist by continuing to emphasize the panda species' endangered status."
The bottom line? Yes, giant pandas are seeing a recovery, but the species still has a long road ahead of it.
On the other hand, there is no such news — mixed or otherwise — for the troubled eastern gorilla.
In a similar report, the IUCN has revealed that because of hunting, the population of eastern gorillas has fallen by more than 70 percent in the past 20 years. Specifically, the group lists the two subspecies that make up the eastern gorilla population, Grauer's gorilla and the mountain gorilla, as critically endangered since they are estimated to be fewer than 5,000 in number.
Grauer's gorilla has lost 77 percent of its population since 1994, declining from 16,900 individuals to just 3,800 in 2015, while the mountain gorilla stands at about 880 individuals in the wild. It should be noted that the latter figure actually represents an increase in population from 1996, but 880 is still a frightfully low number.
"This illegal hunting has been facilitated by a proliferation of firearms resulting from widespread insecurity in the region," the report states. "This rate of population loss is almost three times above that which qualifies a species as critically endangered."
These numbers mean that yet another great ape is in peril. The western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan are all considered critically endangered, while the chimpanzee and bonobo are considered endangered.
The bottom line? Eastern gorillas are in serious trouble.