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China removes giant panda from endangered species list

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A young giant panda struggles to climb down a tree at the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China on November 20, 2017. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
A young giant panda struggles to climb down a tree at the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China on November 20, 2017. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

July 9 (UPI) -- China removed giant pandas from its list of endangered species after the wild population of the animal increased to some 1,800, officials announced.

Cui Shuhong, head of China's Department of Natural Ecological Protection, said Wednesday that the panda will now be classified as "vulnerable."

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"China has established a relatively complete nature reserves system," Cui said during a news conference, according to CNN. "Large areas of natural ecosystems have been systematically and completely protected, and wildlife habitats have been effectively improved."

He said the country has worked to expand the panda's habitat in recent years, including by planting more bamboo forests for them to eat, The Guardian reported. Those efforts have also helped preserve Siberian tigers, amur leopards, Asian elephants and crested ibis.

China's decision comes nearly five years after the International Union for Conservation of Nature removed the panda from its endangered species list and re-classified it as vulnerable.

Giant pandas were first declared endangered in 1990, and numbers have increased from about 1,600 in 2003 to current levels of more than 1,800.

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