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China Giant Panda

Giant Pandas   

China Giant pandas are known as the living fossils and the national treasures . They are black and white bears that live in temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. Among the best recognized but rarest animals in the world, they have come to symbolize endangered species and conservation efforts. Here are some facts about this lovely animal:

Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ailuropoda

Species: A. melanoleuca

Binomial name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Giant Panda range Subspecies: A. melanoleuca melanoleuca ; A. melanoleuca qinlingensis

Geographic Distribution   Giant pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China's Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. They once lived in lowland areas, but farming, forest clearing, and other development now restrict giant pandas to the mountains.

Habitat   Giant pandas live in broadleaf and coniferous forests with a dense understory of bamboo, at elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. Torrential rains or dense mist throughout the year characterizes these forests, often shrouded in heavy clouds.

Physical Description  A giant panda is bear-like in shape. It has black fur on ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, and shoulders. The rest of the animal's coat is white. Although scientists do not know why these unusual bears are black and white, some speculate that the bold coloring provides effective camouflage into their shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings. The panda's thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat. Giant pandas have large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo. Many people find these chunky, lumbering animals to be cute, but giant pandas can be as dangerous as any other bear.

Size   About the size of an American black bear, giant pandas stand between two and three feet tall at the shoulder (on all four legs), and reach four to six feet long. Males are larger than females, weighing up to 250 pounds in the wild. Females rarely reach 220 pounds.

Status The giant panda is listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals. It is one of the most critically endangered species in the world. There are about 1,000 left in the wild. About 140 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world, mostly in China.

Paw: The Giant panda has an unusual paw, with a "thumb" and five fingers; the "thumb" is actually a modified sesamoid bone. Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay about this, then used the title The Panda's Thumb for a book of collected essays. The Giant panda has a short tail, approximately 15 cm long.

Life Span Scientists are not sure how long giant pandas live in the wild, but they are sure it is shorter than lifespans in zoos. Chinese scientists have reported zoo pandas as old as 35.

Diet  A wild giant panda's diet is almost exclusively (99 percent) bamboo. The balance consists of other grasses and occasional small rodents or musk deer fawns. In zoos, giant pandas eat bamboo, sugar cane, rice gruel, a special high-fiber biscuit, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes.

Social Structure
Adult giant pandas are generally solitary, but they do communicate periodically through scent marks, calls, and occasional meetings. Offspring stay with their mothers from one and a half to three years.

Birds and Bees: Giant pandas reproduce very slowly and infant mortality is high. Growth is slow and pandas may not reach sexual maturity until they are five to seven years old. The mating season usually takes place from mid-March to mid-May. During this time, two to five males can compete for one female; the male with the highest rank gets the female. When mating, the female is in a crouching, head-down position as the male mounts from behind. Copulation time is short, ranging from thirty seconds to five minutes, but the male may mount repeatedly to ensure successful fertilization. Mating is also a very noisy time, accompanied by moaning and squealing.

Gestation Period: The whole gestation period ranges from 83 to 163 days, with 135 days being the average. Baby pandas weigh only 90 to 130 grams, which is about 1/900th of the mother’s weight. Usually, the female panda gives birth to one or two panda cubs. Since baby pandas are born very small and helpless, they need the mother’s undivided attention, so she is able to care for only one of her cubs. She usually abandons one of her cubs, and it dies soon after birth. At this time, scientists do not know how the female chooses which cub to raise, and this is a topic of ongoing research.

Single Mother: The father has no part in helping with raising the cub. When the cub is first born, it is pink, naked and blind. It nurses from its mother's breast 6–14 times a day for up to 30 minutes each time.

For three to four hours, the mother might leave the den to feed, which leaves the panda cub defenseless. One to two weeks after birth, the cub's skin turns gray where its hair will eventually become black. A slight pink color may appear on the panda's fur, as a result of a chemical reaction between the fur and its mother's saliva.

They Grow Up So Fast: A month after birth, the color pattern of the cub’s fur is fully developed. A cub's fur is soft as silk and coarsens with age. The cub begins to crawl at 75 to 90 days and the mothers play with their cubs by rolling and wrestling with them. The cubs are able to eat small quantities of bamboo after six months, though mother's milk remains the primary food source for most of the first year. Giant panda cubs weigh 45 kg at one year and live with their mother until they are 18 months to two years old. The interval between births in the wild is generally two years.

Giant Panda FAQs:

How did the panda get its colors?
Scientists aren't exactly sure. One theory is that pandas developed the contrasting black and white colors over time so they would stand out in the forest and be able to find each other to mate.

Are giant pandas bears?
For years scientists have wondered whether pandas are bears, raccoons, or in a group all their own. Through studying the genetic code (DNA) in pandas’ cells, scientists have confirmed the panda's relationship with bears. Giant pandas are similar to other bears in their general looks, the way they walk and climb, and their skull characteristics. It's important to know that pandas are bears, because the more we know about pandas, the better we can help them reproduce and survive.

Giant pandas start out small

Giant pandas are only about the size of a stick of butter at birth, and they're hairless and helpless. The panda mother gives great care to her tiny cub, usually cradling it in one paw and holding it close to her chest. For several days after birth, the mother does not leave the den, not even to eat or drink!

Yet despite the attention they receive from their mothers, many young pandas do not survive. Through captive propagation programs in China and other zoos around the world, we are learning more about the care of panda cubs and how to help them reach adulthood

Does the panda hibernate for the winter?

Unlike the other bears, the giant panda does not hibernate for the winter

The panda likes hot or cold?
The panda has no fear of the harsh winter, but the hot summer.

Can the panda climb trees?
All the pandas are experts for climbing trees.

Can the panda swim?
The panda like water, it can swim.

How about the panda's hearing and smell?
The panda has got very sensitive hearing and a good nose.

How about the vision of the giant panda?
Naturally, the giant panda has poor eyesight for always living in the dense forests.

The pandas eat flesh?
The progenitors of pandas were carnivorous. Today, they still keep some habits from their progenitors. Provided circumstances permit they will eat flesh.

How many pandas are left in the world?
China currently has about 1,000 giant pandas in the wild, most of them living on the mountains around the Sichuan Basin, southwest China,according to the Ministry of Forestry.

What is being done to save giant pandas?
Currently, the Chinese government in conjunction with the WWF are doing all that is possible to save the giant panda. This includes further research on how to manipulate bamboo to be sturdier and faster to recover after die-off cycles. In addition the following is being done:

Conservation education and public awareness activities; international breeding programs in zoos around the world.

Creation of 14 new panda reserves in China bringing the total of giant panda reserves to 26. Corridors, forest links, between the isolated populations are being constructed to help increase the range in which the panda lives in order that the exchange of genetic material between wild populations will increase. Continued research and artificial insemination of giant pandas attempt to continually increase their numbers.

What are giant panda's enemies?
Man is the giant panda's most dangerous. The adult giant panda has very few natural enemies. One of the known enemies of the giant panda is the snow leopard, which may seize a baby panda that has wondered away from its mother or a pack of wild dogs may also capture a wondering cub. The continued population growth in China slowly and steadily depletes the bamboo forests and replaces them with cities or additional farming areas. To a lesser degree the Bamboo Rat which burrows underground, eats the roots of the bamboo growth which obviously kills the plant, leaving one less plant for the giant panda to eat.

What is the life span of a giant panda?
The average life span of the giant panda, in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity they have been known to live well into their 20's and rarely into their 30's.

How does that giant panda protect itself against its enemies?
Giant pandas signify aggression by lowering their heads and staring at their opponents. The giant panda is a generally a passive animal and not initiate to attack man or other animals. Giant pandas, however can become violent when provoked or surprised. Generally when hearing abnormal sounds the giant panda will escape the area immediately or they will climb the nearest tree. Should they become trapped the giant panda will cover their face with their paws often hiding its eye-patches and curl up. This gesture states that they are scared and/or angry. At close range, aggression is signaled by a swipe with a paw, or by a low-pitched growl or bark that will generally send an opponent (another giant panda) scampering up the nearest tree.

Why are giant pandas endangered?
Habitat encroachment and destruction are the greatest threats to the continued existence of the giant panda. This is mainly because of the demand for land and natural resources by China's one billion plus inhabitants. In addition giant pandas are also susceptible to poaching, or illegal killing, as their dense fur carries a high price in the black markets in the Far East.

Bamboo is food and shelter
Bamboo is the most important plant in a giant panda's life. Pandas live in cold and rainy bamboo forests high in the mountains of western China. They spend at least 12 hours each day eating bamboo. Because bamboo is so low in nutrients, pandas eat as much as 84 pounds (38 kilograms) of it each day. Pandas grasp bamboo stalks with their five fingers and a special wristbone, then use their teeth to peel off the tough outer layers to reveal the soft inner tissue. Strong jaw bones and cheek muscles help pandas crush and chew the thick stalks with their flattened back teeth. Bamboo leaves are also on the menu, as pandas strip them off the stalks, wad them up, and swallow them. Giant pandas have also been known to eat grasses, bulbs, fruits, some insects, and even rodents and carrion. At the San Diego Zoo, pandas are offered bamboo, carrots, yams, and special leaf eater biscuits made of grain and packed with all the vitamins and minerals pandas need.

It takes an international effort
Work to keep pandas from becoming extinct crosses oceans and international boundaries. In China, wildlife reserves have been established to ensure that the remaining wild pandas have space to live, eat, and move around without human interference. There is still much that humans do not know about pandas. We must understand how pandas survive, reproduce, and communicate. Researchers at zoos like the San Diego Zoo are studying pandas' scent marking, their nutritional needs, and how they communicate with each other.

Working together with Chinese panda experts may help increase the number of giant pandas and ensure the future survival of the giant panda population. A giant panda milk formula created by the Zoo's nutritionist and a hand-rearing technique developed by the Chinese called "twin swapping" have transformed the survival rate of nursery-reared panda cubs in China from zero percent to 95 percent. The giant panda breeding rate at the Wolong Breeding Center in China increased dramatically following multiyear collaborations with San Diego Zoo Conservation Research.

Public Favorite: The Giant panda has long been a favorite of the public, at least partly on account of the fact that the species has an appealing baby-like cuteness that makes it seem to resemble a living teddy bear.

The fact that it is usually depicted reclining peacefully eating bamboo, as opposed to hunting, also adds to its image of innocence. Though the Giant panda is often assumed docile because of their cuteness, they have been known to attack humans, usually assumed to be out of irritation rather than predatory behavior.

How can I help save or assist in financing research for giant pandas?
You can adopt the giant panda in four places south China's Sichuan Province: The Fengtongzhai Natural Reserve, Chengdu Zoo, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and the Wolong Natural Reserve (this base was relocated to the Bifengxia Mountain Park after the earthquake in May, 2008, the current name called Bifengxia Panda Breeding & Research Base.  The reconstruction of Wolong Natural Reserve will be finished before 2011.). Foping National Nature Reserve in Shaanxi

Giant Panda Nature ReserveThe giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family. Panda once ranged throughout most of China, northern Vietnam and northern Myanmar. Today, fewer than 1,600 giant pandas live in the wild in three Chinese provinces: Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan. Human actions -- including logging, residential development and the expansion of farming -- are considered the main reasons for the dramatic contraction of the giant panda's habitat.Though much effort and many resources have been expended to protect the endangered giant panda, research by an international team of scientists shows that much suitable panda habitat is outside the nature reserves and areas where the panda is reported to live.