Panda

An icon of the conservation movement, the giant panda faces an uncertain future. Its current population is thought to consist of 1000 to 3000 individuals.

The giant panda is an anomaly - a bear equipped for a carnivorous diet, which has adapted to a highly specialized vegetarian diet. The problem is that the bamboos die after flowering, leaving giant pandas at risk of starvation. In the past, this was not a major issue, because they could move elsewhere, but clearance of bamboo forests is curtailing their movements. This is why the creation of reserves for this species is so critical to their survival.

One of the most popular, newsworthy mammals, the giant panda is a rare, elusive creature and surprisingly little is known of its life in the wild. It is large and heavily built, with a massive head, stout legs and a thick, woolly black and white coat, often with a brownish tinge to the black.

The panda’s forepaw is specialized for grasping bamboo stems, its main food. It has an elongated wrist bone that effectively provides a sixth digit, against which the first and second digits can be flexed. The giant panda consumes huge amounts of bamboo in order to obtain sufficient nourishment and thus spends 50 to 75 per cent of its day feeding. It is also thought to eat some other plants and, occasionally, small animals.

Normally solitary, unless breeding or caring for young, pandas are primarily ground-dwelling, but regularly climb trees for shelter or refuge. The male leaves his territory to find a mate and courts her by uttering whines and barks. He will drive off any rival males before mating. The female gives birth to 1 blind,

helpless young, which weighs only about 5 oz (140 g). It is tiny in comparison to its mother, which may weigh as much as 255 lb (115 kg).The cub grows rapidly, however, and by the time it reaches 8 weeks old it is more than 20 times its birth weight.

Distribution: Restricted to China, occurring in the southwest of the country, in the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu, in areas of suitable temperate forest.

Habitat: Bamboo forest.

Weight: 100 - 150 kg (220 - 330 lb); males are heavier.

Length: About 160 cm (63 in); about 75cm (30 in) tall.

Maturity: 4-8 years.

Gestation Period: 95 - 160 days; females come into heat just once annually.

Breeding: 1 - 2; weaning occurs at about 1 year.

Diet: Herbivorous, feeding on 25 different types of bamboo; occasionally eats meat, even catching bamboo rats.

Lifespan: 20 - 30 years.

Markings

The giant panda’s eyes are surrounded by black fur.

Front paws

These are specially adapted to allow pandas to grasp bamboo shoots.

Coat

The coat is thick and woolly, protecting against the cold.

Territorial marking includes spraying urine and leaving scratch marks on trees.

MATERNAL INSTINCTS

Newborn giant pandas can weigh just 90 g (3.2 oz), and may spend nearly seven hours a day suckling at first.

Gallery of Panda