China's wild panda population up nearly 17 percent: Xinhua

China's wild panda population up nearly 17 percent: Xinhua

BEIJING - China's population of wild giant pandas jumped nearly 17 per cent over a decade - state media reported, citing an official survey - with conservation measures credited as being behind the increase.

The investigation by the State Forestry Administration (SFA) found that by the end of 2013 China had 1,864 giant pandas alive in the wild, marking an increase of 268 individuals, or 16.8 per cent, the official Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.

The figures compared with a previous survey carried out in 2003, Xinhua said.

The SFA said conservation efforts led to the increase, according to Xinhua.

Besides population, panda habitat also increased 11.8 per cent to 2.58 million hectares compared with the 2003 survey, Xinhua said.

China had 375 giant pandas in captivity at the end of 2013, the report said, with 166 males and 209 females.

The total figure marked a gain of 211, or 128.7 per cent, compared with 2003, Xinhua said, citing SFC figures.

The report also said that as of June last year there were 42 pandas, including adults and cubs, overseas in 12 countries.

China has cultivated a global fascination with pandas into its diplomacy by sending the animals to overseas zoos where they have proven a wildly popular draw.

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the increase in the giant panda numbers.

"The rise in the population of wild giant pandas is a victory for conservation and definitely one to celebrate," Ginette Hemley, WWF senior vice president of wildlife conservation, said in a release.

"This increase in the population of wild giant pandas is a testament to the commitment made by the Chinese government for the last 30-plus years to wild panda conservation," Hemley added.

Pandas, whose natural habitat lies in mountainous southwestern China, have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss.

Underscoring continuing worries, however, the SFC survey showed that 223 of the wild giant pandas, or 12 per cent of the population, were classified as high risk, Xinhua said.

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