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The number of giant pandas living in the wild has increased by nearly 17 per cent over the last decade, according to a survey by the Chinese government released on Saturday.

The census, conducted by the State Administration of Forestry, found 1,864 giant pandas were living in the wild by the end of 2013, an increase of 268 animals since the last survey in 2003.

Wild giant pandas are found only in China’s Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. The survey found that the area inhabited by the endangered species increased by nearly 12 per cent since the last survey to over 2.5 million hectares.

John Baker, head of India and China regions at WWF-UK, said the population increase “is a demonstration of the successful conservation actions taken by the government and the people of China”.

“Much of this success is due to the implementation of policy changes including banning commercial logging in panda habitats and more effective management of forest protected areas.”

While traditional threats to pandas such as poaching appear to be in decline the animals remain vulnerable to dangers of the modern era.

China has 67 panda nature reserves but 33 per cent of the wild population live outside these protected areas. They face an increasingly fragmented habitat, or isolation imposed by physical barriers.

Other man-made infrastructure encroaching on the panda’s habitat included 319 hydropower plants, nearly 170 miles of high-voltage electrical cables and 25 tourist sites.

The survival of 223 wild pandas is deemed at high risk, the survey said.

“There are still outstanding conflicts between the protection of the giant pandas and their habitats and the local socioeconomic development,” said Chen Fengxue, deputy head of the forestry bureau, according to Xinhua.

“It can be concluded that the protection of giant pandas is still quite an arduous task,” Chen added.

China takes the protection of its wild giant pandas seriously. The survey is the fourth in a series of decadal surveys and took 2,000 people 33 months to complete.

The country has also ramped up efforts to encourage its captive panda population to breed. There were 375 captive giant pandas at the end of 2013, more than double the 164 counted in the 2003 survey.

For decades China has used its pandas to bolster relations with foreign countries, a practice known as panda diplomacy dating back to the Tang dynasty when Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) sent pandas to Japan.

In 1972 a pair of pandas procured during US president Nixon’s visit to China helped thaw diplomatic relations after decades of isolationism by the Communist state.

Some 42 pandas and cubs are currently on loan to 12 countries.

 

Link to The Telegraph