Giant Pandas No Longer Endangered But Gorillas Close to Extinction

Giant panda cub
A Giant Panda cub is seen on show at China's largest breeding Programme at Chengdu Research Base Of Giant Panda Breeding. China, on September 19, 2007. The species has now moved from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' in the classification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Endangered Species. Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The animal kingdom received both good and bad news on Sunday. The giant panda's "endangered" classification was downgraded amid rising numbers, but the eastern gorilla is now considered close to extinction.

In an updates to its Red List of Threatened Species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the status of the giant panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable" after a population increase in China.

The giant panda population rose 17 percent from 2004 to 2014 and, in China, panda numbers rose from 1,596 in 2004 to 1,864 in 2014. There are now estimated to be some 2,060 giant pandas in the world.

"Evidence from a series of range-wide national surveys indicate that the previous population decline has been arrested, and the population has started to increase," the IUCN said in its report. "The improved status confirms that the Chinese government's efforts to conserve this species are effective."

The IUCN update a highlighted a worrisome development for another species, however. The eastern gorilla, mainly found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, has seen its population decline by more than two-thirds (70 percent) in the last 20 years.

The species' numbers are now less than 5,000, with one of its subspecies, the Grauer gorilla, falling in numbers by 77 percent since 1994. It fell from 16,900 gorillas to 3,800 in 2015. The mountain gorilla slightly increased in number but they remain low at around 880.

The fall is mainly due to the ongoing illegal hunting of gorillas, and the great ape species—the group of species closest to human beings—is also bearing the brunt of conflict in Africa. The news means that four of the world's six species of great apes—the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan—are now "critically endangered."