The Beloved and Endangered Giant Panda

Panda Relaxes High in Trees
The giant panda is smaller than you might think.

Giant pandas are some of the most beloved animals in the world, and we can only hope that their fame and popularity hasn’t come too late.  Most people understand that panda are endangered but did you know that there are currently only 1,500 individuals left in the wild in southwest China where they live.

Although these bears are called “giant”, they may not be as large as you think they are. On average, giant pandas stand two to three feet tall and four to six feet long. The males are larger than the females but even so, they are smaller than the average adult human. Pandas are distinctive by their signature black and white markings. These markings aren’t random; they all follow the same pattern. There are dark patches around both eyes, both ears, shoulders, and legs, and the rest of their body is white. They have thick hair which keeps them warm despite how cold it can get in the mountains where they live.

Pandas are also famous for their love of bamboo. It makes up nearly the entire diet of the giant panda, which is why conserving the bamboo forests is vital to protecting panda life. You might be surprised to learn that bamboo has a low nutritional value, so they need to eat a lot of it every day, between 20 and 40 pounds. To supplement their bamboo diet, pandas will sometimes eat other foods, such as other plants, eggs, fish, and even small rodents. Bamboo also doesn’t provide enough water to live off of, so pandas drink freshwater, too.

Small Panda Playing Among Trees
Baby panda are adventurous and playful.

One factor which contributes to the pandas’ endangered status is their slow and hit-or-miss reproduction. During the spring, females will be fertile for only a couple of days, and if she cannot get pregnant in this very short time frame, she misses out. The mother can be pregnant from two to four months, after which time she gives birth to a blind and hairless cub. The cub will completely depend on her for the first three months of their life, during which time the mother panda, like all mother bears, becomes very protective.

Giant pandas are what scientists sometimes refer to as a “living fossil”, meaning that the species has existed as it is for longer than most, so much so that we can find not just remains but fossils of it. They believe that the panda has existed since the Pleistocene age, which was about 3 million years ago.  This was the time of the wholly mammoth and saber toothed tiger along with the rather gentle panda.  

A lot sooner than 3 million years ago, in the Han Dynasty of China (206 BCE – 24 CE). Pandas were believed to possess mystical powers and were therefore highly prized by emperors. Still today, pandas are considered a “NationalTreasure” in China, and it’s easy to see why, right?  Throughout China there are many reserves and a few breeding centers that work to preserve this beloved animal.

I hope you enjoyed this blogpost. If you have anything to add to the discussion, please leave your panda information in the comments below. If you have a requestor suggestion for future topics, please leave those below, too. Thank you for reading and, until next time, goodbye!

3 thoughts on “The Beloved and Endangered Giant Panda”

  1. Hello,
    2 things about what I read in your blog today strike me as curious: 1) Why do pandas spend as much time and energy as they do consuming so much bamboo each day, that in return gives them so little nutritional value when compared to other parts of their diet? Could the bamboo serve any other purpose for them, beyond nutritional? 2) What must it have been like for pandas to survive in a world shared with the likes of the saber tooth tiger and woolly mammoth, not to mention the traumatic environmental effects of the Ice Age? Did these different species live near the same part of the world, or just during the same time period? Regardless, it’s amazing to me that it’s the giant panda that has emerged as a survivor of that distant time, and yet still exists today. I hope they’re still around 3 million years from now.

    1. I suppose pandas have just evolved to have a specialized diet and they are less well equipped to find other food. And pandas live in quite a cold environment now, so the environmental shift at the end of the last Ice Age might not have been so severe for them, or they moved to follow the cold, or it killed the panda populations not living in cooler environments. Those are just some ideas.

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