Decision to take pandas off the endangered list may have come too soon

You may have breathed a sigh of relief when giant pandas were downgraded to a "vulnerable" species last year. 

After all, the adorable and cuddly creatures only live naturally in China, and the species had spent more than 25 years listed as endangered. 

But a new study looking specifically at giant panda habitats warns population gains may prove a temporary victory. 

Decades of satellite data show pandas had less habitat in 2013 than they did roughly 30 years ago — when the species was first considered endangered.

The Chinese government has made the situation a little better by taking steps against logging and increasing the amount of bamboo forests protected in nature reserves.

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Giant Panda cub Fu Ban approaches parcels containing food on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Giant Panda cub Fu Ban (R) and its mother Yang Yang approach parcels containing food on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Giant Panda cub Fu Ban drinks water on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Giant Panda cub Fu Ban approaches parcels containing food on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Giant Panda Yang Yang approaches parcels containing food on its twin cubs' first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Giant Panda cub Fu Ban lies in between parcels containing food on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Giant Panda cub Fu Ban approaches parcels containing food on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Giant Panda cub Fu Ban carries a parcel containing food on its first birthday at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
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But roads have added to the habitat problem by making the areas pandas have more fragmented, isolating populations.

One of the lead researchers from the study argues the decision to improve pandas' status to "vulnerable" came "too soon." 

SEE MORE: Are Conservation Efforts Really Saving Pandas?

The researchers say conservationists need to keep an eye on pressures like climate change, tourism and infrastructure development if they want the panda population to continue to grow. 

They also recommend expanding nature reserve boundaries, encouraging people to move out of panda habitats and using corridors to connect isolated panda populations.

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