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Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Update in Progress

Dear Readers,

Some of the information in this fact sheet, like a panda, has become fuzzy. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is working to bring you an updated version of the Giant Panda Fact Sheet with additional science and conservation information. Thanks for your patience, as we quietly leaf through the research literature.

Please check back soon. SDZWA team members can email questions to

Want more panda facts to munch on? Read SDZWA's latest Stories and news releases.

Conservation Status

Population estimates (Swaisgood et al. 2016, 2018)

  • Overall trend: populations increasing; still vulnerable. Some subpopulations, especially those that are small and in the most degraded habitat, are decreasing.
  • Population estimates
    • Approximately 1,040 mature individuals
    • Approximately 1800-2060 individuals total
  • Populations small and highly fragmented with amounts of connectivity that are unknown
    • According to China's Fourth National Survey (2015): 33 populations, 18 with fewer than 10 individuals
  • Intense efforts to survey this species by the Chinese government (see Swaisgood et al. 2016 for a discussion of the limitations of the data)
  • Visual assessments inefficient—difficult to spot pandas in dense bamboo
    • Identification of individuals by detecting genetic material in feces (Wei et al. 2015) or using camera trap images may be useful for population estimates (Zheng et al. 2016)

IUCN Status

  • Vulnerable (assessed 2016) (Swaisgood et al. 2018)
    • "Downlisted" after 2016 assessment
    • Species still requires substantial conservation management
    • Still considered to be endangered by the Chinese government; protections and conservation funding continue
  • Past assessments
    • 1990-2008: Endangered
    • 1986-1988: Rare
    • 1965: Very rare but believed to be stable or increasing


History of conservation efforts and population estimates

  • 1957
    • Protection efforts begin in China
  • 1963
    • Chinese government establishes first reserves
  • 1980
    • 12 nature reserves for panda conservation in China (Loucks 2003)
  • 1987
    • Giant Panda Task Force established by AAZPA to establish a research and propagation program with the Chinese Assn. of Zoological Gardens, Chinese Forest Ministry and institutional holders of giant pandas
  • 1989
    • Formulation of "National Conservation Management Plan for the Giant Panda and its Habitat" by the Chinese Ministry of Forestry and WWF
      • Reduction of human activities in panda habitat (removal of human settlements, modification of forestry operations, control of poaching)
      • Management of bamboo habitat
      • Extension of panda reserve system
      • Breeding encouraged between panda populations (establishing forest/bamboo corridors to link separate population units, introduction of managed-born young to existing wild population)
      • Maintenance of a managed care population
  • 1998
    • After national surveys find a 50% drop in giant panda numbers, Chinese Governement puts into effect the Wildlife Protection Act, which banned panda poaching (Swaisgood et al. 2016)
  • 1990
    • 13 panda reserves in 6 remaining forest fragments in China
  • 1998
    • After extensive flooding in China, two significant conservation actions by the Chinese government: (Loucks et al 2001)
      • Natural Forest Conservation Program banned logging in natural forests
      • Grain-to-Green policy encourages farmers to restore hillside agricultural lands into forests; grain subsidies are provided
  • 2001
    • 34 nature reserves for panda conservation in China (Loucks 2003)
  • 2010
    • 60 panda reserves in China (federal and provincial)
    • Linking current reserves so pandas can move between them is a top conservation goal (Loucks et al. 2003)
    • Fewer than 2,500 pandas worldwide in wild according to IUCN Red List 2008 (Lu et al. 2008)

Threats to Survival

Loss of habitat plus fragmentation and degradation of habitat

  • Primary causes
    • Agriculture (forest clearance, bamboo cutting)
    • Livestock grazing and browsing
    • Timber harvest, especially clearcutting (removes all maternity dens in an area)
    • Pandas restricted to isolated high ridges, surrounded by civilization

Genetic isolation of remaining populations is resulting in inbreeding

  • Many groups now fewer than 50 individuals
    • Loss of genetic variability can inhibit the evolutionary flexibility of a species

Heavy dependence on bamboo

  • Reduction in bamboo may lead to starvation
    • About 130 pandas starved in the mid-1970s when 3 bamboo species died over a large area
  • Factors influencing loss or reduction of bamboo
    • Each species of bamboo has a synchronous flowering and death, once every 40-120 years
    • Slow regeneration; c. 5 years to an edible stage for pandas
    • When one species dies, pandas normally survive by foraging to find remnants still alive or switch to nearby alternate species; more difficult with habitat fragmentation
    • Climate change

Climate change

  • Habitats may be significantly affected by change in next 80 years (Swaisgood et al. 2009)
    • Predicted to cause the loss of >35% of the panda's bamboo habitat; population expected to decline (Swaisgood et al. 2016)


  • Targeted for valuable skins (Lü et al. 2008)
    • Once major problem, but is now largely controlled (Lü et al. 2008)

Conservation Actions

(Wei et al. 2015; Swaisgood et al. 2016, 2017; except as noted)

  • See Table 1 of Wei et al. (2015) for overview
  • "The Giant Panda has been the focus of one of the most intense, high profile efforts to recover an endangered species" (Swaisgood et al. 2016)
  • Creation of 67 reserves in China; provides protection for pandas and its habitat
    • Protects about 67% of pandas, or 1.4 million hectares of panda habitat
    • Very high biodiversity
  • National laws and international regulations to eliminate/manage the skin trade/poaching
  • International efforts to keep attention and scientific study focused on giant pandas
  • Policies and protective measures mandated by China's State Forestry Administration
    • Wildlife Protection Law (1988): banned panda poaching; made it a capital offense
  • Policies to increase forest cover (e.g., National Conservation Project for the Giant Panda and its Habitat), which
    established a reserve system for Pandas; however, many tree species the same–does not reflect biodiversity
    • Logging banned through much of China
    • Programs to encourage farmers to convert cropland to forest (pay-for-ecosystem services programs)
    • Provides habitat connectivity for pandas
  • Strong focus on conservation science by China's government, international NGOs, and zoos
    • International partnerships
    • Long-term monitoring studies, including range-wide national census, efforts to map panda habitat and bamboo densities

Contributions to Panda Science


SDZWA celebrates 25 years of giant panda research, in collaboration with China conservation partners.

© San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Dolan (1987)
Loucks et al. (2001)
Loucks et al. (2003)
Lü et al. (2008)
Schaller et al. (1985)
Swaisgood et al. (2016, 2017)
Wei et al. (2015)
Wenshi (1995)

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