It's a black and white fact: Pandas are no longer endangered

·5 min read

Watch: Giant pandas no longer endangered, but still vulnerable, China says. 

Good news panda fans, the cute and cuddly animals are no longer classified as endangered.

According to Chinese officials, the classification of the giant panda has been downgraded from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' because their number in the wild has reached 1,800.

Experts say that the country has managed to save its iconic animal through long-term conservation efforts, including the expansion of habitats.

The latest classification change "reflects their improved living conditions and China's efforts in keeping their habitats integrated", said Cui Shuhong, of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.

News that pandas are no longer endangered will no doubt come come as welcome relief to fans of the much-loved animal, but what is it about the giant panda that we find so appealing?

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Pandas are a sign of conservation. (Getty Images)
Pandas are a sign of conservation. (Getty Images)

According to Dr Alastair Ward, head of the department of Biological and Marine Sciences at Hull University, there are some psychological reasons humans can't resist a panda. 

"People are hard-wired to find big, rounded features and dense fur attractive," he explains. "Looking at a giant panda, you can’t help but immediately feel an appeal.

"Those eye patches are reminiscent of big eyes, and together with their relatively short snout, these are the sorts of features that we select for in many of our pets and our children’s toys."

Less scientifically, there's also the fact that we find pandas very funny.  

"If you spend time watching pandas in captivity, they often engage in behaviours that we find amusing, or in which we like to engage ourselves," Dr Ward continues. 

"Who can forget those late winter 2021 videos of pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo, Washington DC body-sledging in the fresh snow? 

"They also appear unthreatening, primarily eating bamboo, unlike other carnivores that hunt and scavenge meat." 

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We're hardwired to love pandas' cute features. (Getty Images)
We're hardwired to love pandas' cute features. (Getty Images)

Another reason for their enduring appeal is that they remind us of ourselves. 

"Look a bit deeper and you can see some of those behaviours held most sacred by humans; a female panda makes a gentle, tender mother for the 18 months that her cub typically remains with her," Dr Ward says. 

"People tend to favour animals that reflect some of our better qualities, and pandas certainly do that." 

It’s this appeal that has lead to pandas becoming a flagship species, that is, an emblem or a standard around which we can rally for the promotion of nature conservation. 

"The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has successfully used the panda within its distinctive logo for over 50 years, and interestingly, the ears and eye patches of the panda in their logo have become bigger and rounder as time has gone by," Dr Ward explains.  

"WWF clearly understands the fundamental appeal of this iconic species."

Watch: Tokyo panda gives birth to twin panda cubs. 

David Field, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) agrees that pandas being an icon of conservation is one of the many factors of their appeal. 

“Giant pandas have long been a symbol for wildlife conservation across the globe and incredible ambassadors, raising awareness of the threats to their species, and far too many others, face in the wild," he explains.

“Thanks to the work of dedicated conservationists in China and around the world, pandas are now also a symbol of hope as our planet faces a biodiversity crisis."

Field says the panda offers a symbol of hope that collaborative efforts can make a difference when it comes to conservation. 

“When people and communities work together, we can save animals from extinction and create real change for the better," he adds. 

RZSS Edinburgh zoo has two giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, the only two giant pandas in the UK, and Field says the pair are enormously popular with visitors. 

"Yang Guang and Tian Tian play a critically important role in attracting and engaging hundreds of thousands of visitors to Edinburgh Zoo every year so more people can learn about the threats animals face in the wild and the action they can take to help," he says. 

"Their power to connect people with nature and encourage behaviour change is invaluable.”

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Who can resist a panda? (Getty Images)
Who can resist a panda? (Getty Images)

Considering the popularity of the giant panda, it is little wonder that so many brands choose the animal to help promote their products, with their black and white faces used to sell everything from sweets to Sudocrem. 

Nick Lang, head of OTC Marketing in the UK for Teva, the owners of Sudocrem, says pandas were strategically chosen to appear in their recent TV advertising campaign. 

“There’s something about pandas that touches us on a deep, emotional level," he explains. "We find them calming and reassuring and that’s why we chose them for our TV advertising campaign which is all about being soothed."

Lang says the appeal of pandas runs much deeper than their cute appearance. 

"Pandas are more than cuddly, they seem sensitive and empathic and that’s what makes them so appealing,” he adds. 

Watch: Pandas: The goofiest of the bear species

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