Giant Panda

Latin Names: Ailuropoda Melanoleuca
Subfamily: Ailuropodinae,
Ailuropoda Melanoleuca David, 1869.

Xiongmao (giant bear cat), Bai Bao (White Leopard), Fiery Fox, Shi Ti Shou (Iron Eating Beast), Shining Cat, Cat Bear, Black and White Bear.

The sharply contrasting black and white coloration, added to the stocky characteristic shape of a bear, makes the giant panda one of the most recognizable animals in the world. Pandas look a lot like other bears in terms of general shape and body structure. Because they chew tough bamboo stalks for nourishment, they have highly developed muscles around their jaw and large crushing molars. This makes their heads very round in appearance. When compared with other bears, the head of the giant panda is large in relation to its body.

Panda forepaws are very flexible and have an enlarged wrist bone that acts as a unique 'sixth digit,' which works sort of like a human thumb. Pandas do not have heel pads on their hind feet like other bears, but they can still move around the dense forest silently and easily. The head, top of the neck and rump are white, while small patches of fur around the eyes, the ears, shoulders, front legs, and rear legs are black.

In the wild their coloring can look more red or brown than black. Pandas have a short tail which is sometimes black. Their fur is thick with coarse outer hairs and dense wooly under-fur. The wrist bone, becoming extended to form an awkward, but functional, opposable thumb. The male genitalia are small and pointed to the rear, which is more similar to the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) than to other bears. Pandas also have an extremely thick esophagus so that they can swallow the large splinters of bamboo. Pandas are the most distinctively marked of all bears.

Adult giant pandas range in body length from about 160 to 190 centimeters (64 to 76 inches). Males are slightly longer than females, have stronger forelegs, and are 10 to 20 percent heavier. In the wild males weigh from 85 to 125 kilograms (190 to 275 pounds), while females range between 70 and 100 kilograms (155 to 220 pounds). At birth, cubs weigh only 85 to 140 grams (3 to 5 ounces). In captivity they live 25+ years.

Giant pandas live at an altitude of between 1,200 and 3,500 meters (4,000 and 11,500 feet) in mountain forests that are characterized by dense stands of bamboo. Home ranges average 8.5 square kilometers (3.3 square miles) for ma les and 4.6 square kilometers (1.8 square miles) for females. They also are in Southwestern China, along the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau in six small areas in Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanzi provinces. Prefer to live in cold, damp coniferous forests between 4000 and 11,000 feet high in elevation. Require dense bamboo stands for food and cover. Today pandas exist in only six small areas along the eastern rim of the Tibetan plateau.

Most of the bears that remain in the wild live in a chain of fourteen reserves that were established by the Chinese government. Today, it is estimated that only 700 pandas remain in the wild. There are another 200 of the bears in zoos (mostly in China). Although they were once more widespread, today they are limited to six small areas in Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanzi provinces, totaling only 14,000 square kilometers (5,400 square miles).

Between 700 to 1000 in the wild and declining. Recent research has led to the reclassification of the giant panda as a bear species. It is found in the area around the Sichuan Province of China. The remaining population is said to be less than 1,000, and the species is listed in Appendix I of CITES.

Pandas reproduce very slowly and infant mortality is high. Pandas reach sexual maturity from four-and-a-half to 7 years of age and mate during the spring, from March to May. Females are in estrus for one to three weeks, but peak receptiveness lasts for only a few days. Pandas mate in the spring and the mother usually gives birth to two cubs in the early fall, but often she abandons one and lets it die. Litters of one, two, or occasionally three cubs are born in August or September, usually in a hollow tree or cave. Although cubs are usually weaned at about nine months of age, they remain with their mothers for up to 18 months. Newborn pandas are tiny, only about a quarter of a pound. Cubs usually stay with their mothers until they are a year and a half old.

Except for females accompanied by cubs, giant pandas live a solitary existence. Home ranges for males average 3.3 square miles and 1.8 square miles for females. Home ranges for females are usually mutually exclusive while male pandas may overlap those of several females.

During the breeding season, several males may compete for access to a female. Pandas communicate by rubbing an acetic- smelling substance-secreted by glands surrounding the anogenital area-onto tree trunks and stones. They also scratch trees. Most territorial marking is thought to be done by males. Pandas are quite vocal and eleven distinct calls have been identified i n the wild, although the function of each is not understood. In captivity, females vocalize during estrus as well.

More than 99 percent of the food consumed by giant pandas consists of the branches, stems, shoots and leaves of at least 30 species of bamboo, the species eaten varying from region to region. They spend between 10 and 12 hours eating bamboo every day. Adults consume 12 to 15 kilograms (25 to 40 pounds) of food per day when feeding on bamboo leaves and stems, to ingest required nutrients. However, when feeding on new bamboo shoots, they are capable of eating up to 38 kilograms (84 pounds) per day, which is about 40 percent of their average body weight. Although the proportion is small, pandas also feed to a limited degree on other plants and a small amount of meat. When an opportunity may arise, although they are too slow to catch most animals.

They feed mainly on the ground but are capable of climbing trees as well. They are active mainly at twilight and at night. Is the giant panda more like a bear or a racoon? They certainly look bearish, but they have a few unusual features that led people to believe they are not a bear. After almost a century of debate, scientists were finally able to test the genes from pandas and determine that they are actually a species of bear. Pandas are the rarest of bears. They are found in a wilderness area in China that continues to disappear due to human encroachment.

Daily Activity:
Individual pandas may share the same ranges, but they try to avoid each other and spend most of their time alone. When they are not eating they are usually resting. Most active during dawn and in the early evening.

On a diet of bamboo, it is impossible for panda bears to accumulate enough fat to sleep through the winter. Instead of hibernating in higher, cooler climates the bears go down to lower elevations with warmer weather. Pandas are active mainly at twilight and at night. Eyes adapted for night vision. Considered the domestic animal of the Chinese emperors. Eleven distinct calls have been identified for Pandas in the wild. Typically they don't hibernate even when living in higher elevations.

The giant panda is considered to be China's national treasure and has become a symbol of conservation. Unfortunately, it has also become an endangered species and is severely threatened due to habitat loss and poaching. The people of China have been cutting down bamboo forests for houses and farming. When bamboo becomes scarce, pandas have nowhere to go for a new suply and their habitat becomes too small for them to survive.

In order to save the giant panda, millions of dollars are needed to establish wildlife reserves, relocate people currently living within the reserves, educate the public about wildlife conservation, stop poachers, and plant bamboo. Fortunately, a lot of people around the world like pandas and are concerned about their future. Educating people worldwide about the giant panda's possible extinction has begun to pay off and many realize that one of their favorite zoo animals may not be here for their grandchildren to enjoy unless they do something.