Giant Panda - Ailuropoda melanoleuca (Endangered Species)
The giant panda, or panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, literally meaning "black and white cat-foot") is a bear native to central-western and south western China. It is easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the panda's diet is 99% bamboo. Pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents or carrion. In captivity they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared feed.
The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Due to farming, deforestation and other development, the panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived.
The panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. A 2007 report shows 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country. Wild population estimates vary; one estimate shows that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild, while a 2006 study via DNA analysis estimated that this figure could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000. Some reports also show that the number of pandas in the wild is on the rise. However, the IUCN does not believe there is enough certainty yet to reclassify the species from Endangered to Vulnerable.
While the dragon has historically served as China's national emblem, in recent decades the panda has also served as an emblem for the country. Its image appears on a large number of modern Chinese coins in gold, silver, bimetallic gold & silver, platinum, palladium, bronze, brass, and copper.
The giant panda has an insatiable appetite for bamboo. A typical animal eats half the day—a full 12 out of every 24 hours—and relieves itself dozens of times a day. It takes 28 pounds (12.5 kilograms) of bamboo to satisfy a giant panda's daily dietary needs, and it hungrily plucks the stalks with elongated wrist bones that function rather like thumbs. Pandas will sometimes eat birds or rodents as well.
Wild pandas live only in remote, mountainous regions in central China. These high bamboo forests are cool and wet—just as pandas like it. They may climb as high as 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) to feed on higher slopes in the summer season.
Pandas are often seen eating in a relaxed sitting posture, with their hind legs stretched out before them. They may appear sedentary, but they are skilled tree-climbers and efficient swimmers.
Giant pandas are solitary. They have a highly developed sense of smell that males use to avoid each other and to find females for mating in the spring. After a five-month pregnancy, females give birth to a cub or two, though they cannot care for both twins. The blind infants weigh only 5 ounces (142 grams) at birth and cannot crawl until they reach three months of age. They are born white, and develop their much loved coloring later.
There are only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild. Perhaps 100 pandas live in zoos, where they are always among the most popular attractions. Much of what we know about pandas comes from study of these zoo animals, because their wild cousins are so rare and elusive.
Fast Facts about Giant Panda
Average life span in the wild: 20 years
Size: 4 to 5 ft (1.2 to 1.5 m)
Weight: 300 lbs (136 kg)
Protection status: Endangered
Giant Panda Pictures