Giant panda numbers on the rise

It's official - decades of conservation work to save the giant panda have increased its population, taking it from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' for the first time.

The species, the symbol of China and organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has been downgraded on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The latest survey, between 2011 and 2014, found a 17 percent rise in the population where it counted 1865 adults living in the wild.

There's no hard data on the number of cubs in the wild, but estimates would bring the population to 2060.

The Chinese government's push to save the cuddly species has been praised, including ending poaching, protecting the animals' habitat, building reserves and partnerships with international organisations such as zoos.

"Once poorly understood, there has been an explosion of scientific studies across many disciplines, and this knowledge has increasingly been applied management and policy decisions," the IUCN says.

It adds though while China's State Forestry Administration should be patting itself on the back, it "fully realises that more work needs to be done to further Panda conservation and to avoid losing ground so painstakingly gained".

Climate change could threaten to undo the decades of work in the next 80 years with the possibility of losing around 35 percent of the panda's bamboo habitat.

The IUCN says the species will remain "conservation-dependent for the foreseeable future".

WWF director general Marco Lambertini says the change in status is an "exciting moment" for those who've worked tirelessly to save the species.

"The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity," he says.

The giant panda first entered the Red List in 1965 as 'very rare', but believed to be stable or increasing.

It was bumped down to 'rare' in 1986, then 'endangered' in 1990 where it's been since.

But while it's good news for the giant panda, the Eastern gorilla has moved to being 'critically endangered' with poaching the main factor bringing their numbers down.

Giant panda numbers on the rise

A family of Eastern gorillas in Rwanda (Getty)

The IUCN says miners working in national parks have admitted to killing the gorillas which can provide large amounts of meat.

There are thought to be fewer than 5000 eastern gorillas in the wild, with around 880 living in two isolated populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

Climate change, habitat loss and disease are also major threats to the species.