Description: The Giant Panda is one of the Earth’s most endangered and well-known species. It has a characteristic white face with black ears and circles around the eye. It has a white body with black arms and legs. Giant Pandas average about six feet in length. Males can weigh up to 275 pounds and are 10 to 20 percent larger than females. The head of the Giant Panda is extremely large and contains powerful molars to crush bamboo stalks. Giant Pandas have specially adapted wrist bones which serve somewhat like human thumbs and enable the panda to grasp bamboo. Giant Pandas are excellent climbers and swimmers, but unlike many bears they do not hibernate and cannot stand on their hind legs.
Diet: The Giant Panda has a specialized diet that consists almost entirely of bamboo. They will also feed on insects, mushrooms, fish and fruit. Giant Pandas must eat 20-40 pounds of bamboo to survive and spend most of the day searching for food.
Habitat/Range: The Giant Pandas inhabit the dense bamboo forests of central China. Populations of Giant Pandas are fragmented into six small forest regions. While biologists once estimated populations of Giant Pandas at less than 1,000, the most recent counts have revealed there may be as many as 1,600 left in the wild. About 60 zoos throughout the world have Giant Pandas. China recently loaned the National Zoo in Washington D.C. a pair of pandas for one million dollars per year.
Young/Reproduction: Panda cubs are born blind and naked and weigh less than half a pound after a gestation period of 125-150 days. Two cubs are born but only one survives. Cubs nurse for about six months and leave their mothers after a year.
Behavior: Giant Pandas are extremely solitary animals and rarely associate for prolonged periods of time with other pandas – even if they’re in the same cage at a zoo. Males will sometimes congregate, however, during the breeding season to compete for females. Pandas communicate territory boundaries by marking trees with urine or feces. Pandas sometimes engage in “handstand marking” in which they stand on their paws and rest their bodies against a tree while marking. This is thought to communicate the size of the panda, as the higher up the scent markings rise, the bigger the Panda is.
Status: Giant Panda populations have declined dramatically in the 1900’s. The destruction of their habitat to make room for farms, grazing animals, and China’s booming populations are the main culprits. As a result, the Chinese government has established 33 natural Panda reserves where bamboo flourishes. Chinese citizens are generally forbidden from even entering these areas. Giant Pandas are occasionally the victim of poachers, who sell their furs for high prices in illegal markets. Individuals convicted of killing Giant Pandas are put in jail for life.