The giant panda is considered a national treasure in its home country, China. While their famous black and white fur pattern might stand out to us, it is actually used for camouflage. The white sections help them blend into snowy surroundings during winter, and the dark black fur helps them disappear in the shade of trees in summer.
While pandas are known for their clumsy and lazy behaviour often observed in captivity or during feeding, they are actually proficient tree climbers and swimmers. However, they do also spend a lot of time sitting around eating bamboo. It can take as long as 12 hours a day for a panda to eat the amount of bamboo it needs to get enough nutrients.
Though bamboo makes up most of a panda’s diet, their bodies are not well-suited to digesting the plant. Of the 12 kilograms of bamboo they eat per day, they can only digest around 17%. This is because pandas only adopted a bamboo diet a few million years ago, and their digestive system is still that of a carnivore.
Perhaps because much of their time is spent eating, giant pandas are not very social animals. They live solitary lives, using their sense of smell to avoid each other’s territory. They only seek out other pandas in spring for mating season. Female pandas are pregnant for five months before giving birth to a tiny cub about 1/800 of their size. They can typically only care for one infant at a time because the tiny cubs need constant and careful attention. However, around half of panda pregnancies result in twins, and the weaker of the two cubs is often abandoned.
As well as being important to Chinese culture and ecotourism, pandas play an important role in maintaining the health of their environment, helping vegetation to thrive by spreading seeds in their droppings. This, in turn, allows other animals to prosper.
What is a giant panda's scientific name?
The panda’s scientific name is Ailuropoda melanoleuca, which means ‘black and white cat foot.’ It was given the common name of ‘panda’ because its bamboo diet and specially adapted paws resembled the red panda, an otherwise unrelated animal that was discovered almost 50 years previously.
Are giant pandas endangered?
Living proof that threatened animals can be saved, giant pandas were listed as endangered until 2016, when they were reclassified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Thanks to China’s extensive conservation efforts, giant pandas are no longer as severely threatened by hunting, habitat loss, or human development as they were 30 years ago, and their numbers have actually started to increase. However, they remain vulnerable because their population numbers are still very small.
Where do giant pandas live?
Giant pandas live in a selection of mountain ranges in central China. They once lived at lower elevations around the bases of these mountains, but these areas have since been developed for farming and other human activities.
The most notable characteristic of panda habitat is the dense thickets of bamboo on the forest floor. Since this is a panda’s main source of food, its availability is one of the main prerequisites for suitable panda habitat.
The panda population is still recovering from habitat loss which has left them with few and fragmented pockets of suitable bamboo habitat. While in this precarious situation, other issues such as hunting, climate change, and further habitat loss pose an urgent threat.
Giant pandas now occupy just a fraction of their historical range in the mountainous areas of central China, and their populations are very fragmented. According to the latest survey, pandas live in around 33 subpopulations, some of which contain less than 10 individuals. This separation makes it much harder for pandas to reproduce and avoid inbreeding.
Another consequence of their small range is limited food availability. Because they rely almost solely on bamboo for food, pandas need access to multiple species of bamboo in case one suffers a mass die-off event. Now though, they can’t travel to higher or lower ground to find an unaffected species. Instead, a die-off event could lead to starvation if the pandas fail to find an alternative food source.
Currently, the Chinese government is highly committed to panda conservation efforts because they consider the bear a national treasure. However, if this changes in the future, more panda habitat could be encroached on by humans for farming and mining projects.
Hunting is thankfully no longer a common threat to pandas thanks to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1988. However, hunting of other species still takes place in the area and can occasionally result in the accidental death of a panda.
Because panda numbers are so low, each individual is essential for conservation efforts, and it’s important to limit these hunting accidents as much as possible.
Because pandas live in a small area and depend on one type of plant for the majority of their food, climate change poses a significant threat to their way of life. If changes in the climate affect the growth or availability of bamboo, pandas would be in danger of mass starvation.
Unfortunately, current climate change projection models show a high probability of bamboo loss in the next 70 years, with some even predicting complete extinction. The models also suggest that panda habitat could become more suitable for human farming by the end of this century, which could prompt further habitat loss to agricultural development.
What do giant pandas eat?
The giant panda diet consists almost exclusively of bamboo. They eat the stems, leaves, and shoots of bamboo, even though they can’t digest one of the main elements of the plant, cellulose.
To get around this problem, pandas need to almost constantly expel the indigestible parts of bamboo as they eat, resulting in as many as 50 toilet breaks per day. They also need to consume an extremely large amount of bamboo to get enough nutrients, a task that takes around 10 to 12 hours each day.
Bamboo plants sometimes experience a phenomenon called ‘flowering’ which results in the mass death of huge areas of bamboo plants. Because of this, pandas typically need to live somewhere with access to at least two different species of bamboo so they can switch if one suffers a mass die-off event.
What do giant pandas eat other than bamboo?
Pandas once had a carnivorous diet but switched to bamboo around three million years ago, according to fossil records. Though they have since developed various adaptations for bamboo in their thumb-like wrist bones, teeth, and jaws, they still retain the digestive system of a carnivore.
They may have lost the physical ability or innate knowledge required to catch most types of live prey, but they will still occasionally eat meat like small birds and rodents. However, 99% of a panda’s diet consists of bamboo.
How big is a giant panda?
Giant pandas can stand 60 to 90 centimetres tall at the shoulder when they’re on all four legs, and their length can reach up to 1.8 metres.
How much does a giant panda weigh?
Male pandas can weigh up to 100 kilograms, while females are generally smaller.
Are giant pandas bears?
Giant pandas are classed as bears and share many physical and behavioural characteristics with other species in the bear family (Ursidae). However, in the past, their classification has been a topic of disagreement.
Some scientists believed they should be classed as members of the Procyonidae family with raccoons, and others placed them with red pandas in the Ailuridae family. Finally, research in the 1990s proved close evolutionary ties between giant pandas and bear species, securing their place as a member of the Ursidae family.
Do giant pandas hibernate?
Unlike other bears, giant pandas do not hibernate during winter. Instead, they head towards lower elevations where the temperature is higher and continue their usual daily routine of eating bamboo for 12 hours.
How long do giant pandas live?
Are giant pandas dangerous?
Giant pandas are large bears with strong teeth, long claws, and muscular bodies, so they can be dangerous.
In the wild, they fight to compete for territory or females. In captivity, it is uncommon for keepers to enter an adult panda’s enclosure as it could be unsafe.
Do pandas have tails?
Giant pandas do have tails but they are very short and stubby, without much range of movement.
Many of the panda’s body parts are similarly lacking in expressive abilities. Their facial expressions don’t change, their ears are not flexible enough to move, and they have no crest or mane to erect. This lack of communicative adaptations could be due to their solitary lifestyles.
What sound does a panda make?
Pandas have been recorded making chirping, honking, bleating, chomping, and barking sounds. Other noises in their repertoire have been described as ‘cuckoo,’ ‘woo woos,’ and ‘creaks.’
Because they are so rare and elusive, there are lots of facts about pandas that we don’t know. Even information about their vocalisations is incomplete, and most studies are conducted with pandas in captivity.
What is a group of pandas called?
Today, a group of pandas is most commonly known as an ‘embarrassment’ of pandas, a term that refers to their clumsy movements and lazy personas. It’s thought that the term might have been created and popularised online as no scientists seem to know where it came from.
There is another term for a group of pandas that was used by zoologists in the 19th century—a ‘cupboard’ of pandas. No one knows where this term came from, either.
Why did giant pandas almost go extinct?
Pandas suffered from significant habitat loss when humans started developing the lowland areas of the mountain ranges where they lived. This forced the pandas to move higher up the mountains, limiting their space and reducing food availability.
They were also hunted extensively in the first half of the 20th century, causing losses that were difficult for pandas to recover from due to their slow reproduction rates.
How are giant pandas affected by climate change?
Pandas live off bamboo as a primary food source. When bamboo becomes unavailable, such as during mass flowering events, populations are at risk of starvation.
Habitat changes and degradation due to climate change may potentially affect bamboo growth in the future. Several models predicting the consequences of climate change estimate a 37% to 100% loss of bamboo habitat by the end of the century.
How many giant pandas are left?
While the population trend for giant pandas is increasing, their numbers are still small. The IUCN estimates that there are between 500 and 1,000 mature individuals, while The Fourth National Survey conducted by China estimates the total population size to be around 2,060 adults and young.
Although the extensive conservation efforts by China are proving effective, this small population size alone qualifies the giant panda for their ‘vulnerable’ status.
How can you help?
Giant pandas are facing habitat loss, hunting, and climate change.