The giant panda, ailuropoda melanoleuca, is probably the most popular endangered creature in the whole world. They stand 2.5 feet (0.8 meters) tall at the shoulders and measure 4 to 5.9 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) long from head to tail. Males are slightly larger than females, weighing about 250 pounds (113 kilograms) while females weigh around 220 pounds (100 kilograms). A giant panda has a distinctive black and white coat and heavy shoulders. They have a modified wrist bone (often referred to as a thumb) that it uses to help grasp its trademark food, bamboo sticks. Their molar and premolar teeth as well as their jaws are different than that of other bears (such as the grizzly and polar bear as well as the red panda) and are designed to help them grind bamboo.
The giant panda can be found in six separate mountain ranges in western China. They will often inhabit coniferous and thick bamboo forests at elevations of anywhere from 3,937 to 11,500 feet (1,200 to 3,505 meters). Although it is a solitary creature, it may occasionally meet with others. They communicate with one another through scent markings and various calls. Unlike other bears, they do not hibernate and instead migrate to lower elevations in order to keep warm.
The diet of a giant panda mostly consists of bamboo, although they will also eat flowers, tufted grasses, honey, green corn and even rodents from time to time. They must eat anywhere from 20 to 45 pounds (9 to 20 kilograms) of bamboo shoots everyday. This is because they have the digestive system of a carnivore and therefore cannot digest plant matter efficiently, which means that little energy and protein is gained from bamboo. They eat so much that half of their day (literally 12 hours) is spent doing nothing sitting comfortably with their hind legs stretched out in front of them and feeding.
Breeding season for the giant panda takes place from March until May. Females will give birth to a litter of 1 or 2 offspring (called cubs) after a gestation period of anywhere from 3 to 5 months. The cubs are born in a den that is located in the base of a hollow tree or in a cave. If twins are born, then only one of them will survive as the mother cannot care for both of them. Cubs will begin moving around at around 3 months of age and are nursed for up to 6 months. The cubs will become independent after a year, but will sometimes stay with their mother until they are 3 years old. During this time, the mother may leave her cubs for days while she goes out and forages. If the cubs can survive long enough, then they can live to be up to 20 years old.
The giant panda is a critically endangered species, with only around 1,000 left in the wild. Much of the information scientists have on them comes from those in captivity as they are elusive in the wild. They are highly protected, but are still illegally hunted and accidentally trapped from time to time. Hopefully, a solution can be found to help the giant panda rebound and repopulate. After all, such a unique and symbolic bear deserves to live and prosper for future generations to see.
“Giant Panda” 17 June 2011
“Panda” 17 June 2011
“Giant Panda (Ailuropoda Melanoleuca)” 17 June 2011