The giant panda may have been taken off the endangered species list, but the emblematic black and white bear still faces a plethora of risks including epidemics and climate change, Chinese breeding centers say.
Every morning, with the dawn light shimmering on their patchy coats the young residents of a panda breeding center in southwestern China shred their favorite breakfast -- bamboo.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was set up in 1987 when the animals were considered to be under increasing threat of extinction -- a catastrophic scenario that seems to have been avoided for now.
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The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last week reclassified the giant panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on its "Red List" of threatened species.
There were 1,864 adult giant pandas in the wild in China in 2014, a 17 percent increase in 10 years, according to the IUCN.
"It is a positive message, it's not all gloom and doom," said James Ayala, a researcher at the base, in Sichuan province.
"But I still think it is too early to consider it a true success... we're not in the clear yet.
"It's like if your great grandma gets out of intensive care, you don't celebrate, she's still very old, very weak, and the chance of seeing her back in care is very likely."
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The IUCN's general criteria are less applicable to pandas, he said, as their wholly bamboo diet means their survival is totally dependent on habitat, and climate change poses a huge threat.
Zhang Hemin, of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), also in Sichuan, called the IUCN's reclassification "premature".
The wild giant panda population is split into 33 different groups, 18 of them consisting of fewer than a dozen pandas, leaving them at "high risk of collapse", according to Zhang.
Their separation also raises the risks of inbreeding, hence the importance of captive breeding programs, which often use artificial insemination -- pandas are renowned for their sexual apathy.
Known as Papa Panda in China, Zhang runs an ultra-modern "panda hospital", home to Pan Pan, who at 31 -- equivalent to 100 in human years -- is regarded as the oldest panda living in captivity and has sired at least 130 descendants.
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