Sunday, April 22, 2012

Giant Panda

Captive Panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo
Earth Day has arrived! And in celebration let's talk about the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund and one of the most iconic conservation poster animals out there- the Giant Panda. These large mammals are endemic to China

Giant Pandas are some weird bears. And yes, they are actual, Ursidae family-member bears, though in the past there has been speculation that they belong to some other group. At any rate, they have a digestive system made for processing a carnivorous diet, but they don't eat meat. As you probably know, Pandas eat Bamboo... which is odd because they get very few nutrients from the Bamboo. The result of their unnatural diet is that they have to eat lots and lots of the grass, up to 30lbs a day, in order to get their dietary needs satisfied.

Though their digestive tract hasn't adapted to the Bamboo diet, other features of their anatomy have. Their faces are especially round because they need large back molars and strong jaw muscles in order to grind down the fibrous plant. The have also evolved a modified "thumb" on their paws. This sesamoid bone is different from the one found in other bears, and it allows the Giant Pandas to grasp onto Bamboo easier.

There are a number of reasons why the Giant Panda is so endangered. Poaching and Habitat loss were the first threats to really affect them, though some of those pressure have been alleviated with the establishment of wild preserves. There are now around 40 separate preserves in China.

Panda at the San Diego Zoo
Unfortunately, it has been difficult to get the Panda population to rebound, though they are getting there. They have a mindbogglingly low reproductive rate, both in the wild and in captivity. In the wild, Giant Pandas are solitary; males and females meet up for only a very brief window of time in order to mate. After the deed is done, the male goes on his way, and the female may or may not be pregnant. Even with continued successful couplings, the birth rate is only about 1 cub every two years.

Captive breeding programs ran into all sorts of problems at first. The Pandas just didn't seem to have any desire to mate, and so most early cubs born were due to artificial insemination. Some hilarious methods have been employed over the years, including have the Pandas watch "Panda Porn," aka DVDs of other Pandas mating. Males have also been given Viagra! Natural births have been happening in recent years, though artificial insemination is still frequently employed.

Seriously. Pandas eat all day. I have about
40 pictures, they are all of them eating.
The ins and outs of Captive Panda ownership are quite interesting. All Giant Pandas outside of China are technically "on loan." Foreign zoos pay the Chinese government up to $1,000,000 each year in order to keep their Pandas, and the contracts typically have term limits to them. All Panda cubs born outside of China are still property of China, and most are sent back to their native land upon reaching adulthood. Bai Yun, the female Panda at the San Diego Zoo, has had four of her five cubs returned to China, were they take part in breeding programs.

Currently there are about 300 Giant Pandas in captivity, and it is estimated that there are around 1,600 in the wild, though there may be more. While they are not the most endangered mammals out there, they are certainly one of the most iconic.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : China
Size : Body length up to 6ft (1.8m), Wieght up to 350lbs (160kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Ursidae -- Genus : Ailuropoda -- Species : A. melanoleuca


  1. I have a couple of really great (in my opinion) pictures of Giant Pandas from the San Diego Zoo, if you want to check them out!

  2. Great video! I found panda very cute animals and the activity he does are just so cute and funny.


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