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April 20, 2018  |  Login

Giant Panda
Ailuropoda melanoleuca

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What Are They Like?

The giant panda, an icon of animal conservation, can weigh up to 280 pounds (127 kilograms) and measure 5.25-6.75 feet (1.6-1.9 meters) in length. These pandas have extensions of their wrist bones that look and function like thumbs. Their front limbs are stronger than their back limbs to facilitate climbing, and they have very strong jaws and teeth so they can crush and ingest bamboo – their major food supply.


Where Do They Live?

Giant pandas live in temperate forests offering large supplies of bamboo. Populations of giant pandas are located only in a few mountain ranges in Central China. in Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. Their range used to cover much more ground, but has shrunk due to a changing climate, hunting, and land cultivation by humans.

Did You Know?
Giant pandas are the rarest member of the bear family

How Are Babies Made?

Female pandas mate with multiple males every season, and about six months later give birth to one or two cubs. At 1/900th the size of their mothers, panda cubs are the smallest newborn mammals at birth relative to their full-grown size. Cubs begin at only 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and weigh just a few ounces, but grow steadily until independence at around 18 months. Female pandas give birth only every two years or so; their naturally low breeding rate is an obstacle to population recovery.

What Do They Eat?

Though giant pandas are technically omnivores, bamboo comprises 99% of their diet. Because they do not absorb a lot of nutrition from this source, they must eat it in very large quantities – up to 84 pounds (38 kilograms) per day. Over half the day is spent feeding, and though they get a lot of water from the bamboo, pandas must also drink often from rivers and streams.


What Do They Do?

Giant pandas are the only bears that do not hibernate during the winter. Instead, they descend to lower altitudes in order to maintain access to their food supply. In general, pandas are solitary except during the mating season and while rearing cubs, but there is some new research that suggests they do form loosely associated groups. When they do get together, they communicate with each other vocally and through scents.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which keeps a "Red List" of species in danger worldwide, lists the giant panda as "endangered." There are less than 2,500 mature pandas in the wild. The greatest threat to pandas is the combination of habitat loss and reliance on bamboo as a food source. In the past, when bamboo has died off as it does periodically, pandas have been able to relocate. However, because of habitat destruction, often they cannot find new stands of bamboo to sustain them.

What's Being Done?

Conservation efforts are focused on habitat improvement and there are a growing number of reserves in China.


Planet Earth: Wild Pandas

Giant Panda Bears in the Forest – David Attenborough – BBC Wildlife

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