The second census a few years later had similarly secretive methods - and it showed a larger number of pandas. "And the most recent census that was done, they added some more genetic methods and this time no foreigners were allowed to be involved at all," Loeffler said. "We have no external verification of these numbers. The IUCN had no choice but to downlist the giant panda. But no one really believes them."
For China, the most important thing is saving space for development, according to Loeffler. "They're constantly trying to prove that they're making progress despite shrinking natural environment," she said. "And that spills over into absolutely everything. Now they're peeing their pants because they've been boasting about their recovery of giant pandas in the wild, so now that they've been taken off the endangered species list. Then they just realized that, because of this, their giant panda industry might end up being less of a hot commodity."
In other words, by downlisting the giant panda, the international community of conservation experts may have accidentally just called China's bluff.
"It is clear that the battle for panda conservation rests on conserving the ecosystem where pandas live," Draper added, "not on a high-profile, expensive and unnatural captive breeding program."