The Bamboo Bear

The Giant Panda
A Giant Panda reclining peacefully eating bamboo is one of the world's most adored and protected rare animals. Their black-and-white coats and large black patches around the eyes, ears and body are distinctive markings in the bear family and unlike most bears, the giant panda does not hibernate. Their jaw muscles, large molars and round face are an adaptation to a bamboo diet. The Giant Pandas of China are endangered. Panda preservation groups and conservation efforts are working to protect them from possible extinction. In ancient China, pandas were thought to be rare, noble creatures and a sign of goodwill. It was believed to have magical powers that could ward off natural disasters and evil spirits.

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The Qinling Mountains
Giant Pandas live in mountainous regions of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces of China. They are found in the Qinling Mountains at elevations of 1300–3000m. There are 40 panda reserves in China. An estimated 3,000 pandas live in the wild, 180 live in captivity in China and twenty pandas live outside of China. Improved conservation methods have started to increase population numbers in some areas, even though they still are classified as a rare species.

Gansu is a province lies between the Tibetan Plateau, Inner Mongolia, and the Loess Plateau. The province contains the geographical center of China and the landscape is flat in the north and The Mountains in the south are part of the Qinling mountain range. Gansu is home to twenty-four rare animals that are under a state protection.

Shaanxi is a province that includes portions of the Loess Plateau on the middle reaches of the Yellow River as well as the Qinling Mountains. The northern part of Shaanxi is cold in the winter and very hot in summer and a subtropical climate south of the Qinling Mountains.

Sichuan is a province that lies in the Sichuan basin and is surrounded by the Himalaya. The climate is often heavily foggy with few sunny days. The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries are home to more than 30% of the world's highly endangered Giant Pandas. It is among the most important sites for the captive breeding of these pandas.

The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries…
  • Caopo Nature Reserve
  • Fengtongzhai Nature Reserve
  • Heishui River Nature Reserve
  • Laba River Nature Reserve
  • Jintang-Kongyu Nature Reserve
  • Mt. Siguniang Nature Reserve
  • Wolong Nature Reserve
  • Temperate Forests
    Temperate forests have four distinctive seasons with torrential rains; dense mists and heavy cloud cover throughout much of the year. Found only in China, Giant Pandas are scattered across six mountain ranges of deciduous and evergreen temperate forests. Bamboo contributes to the dense under-story of broadleaf and coniferous forests, which are divided into three sections:
  • The Canopy
  • The Under-story
  • The Forest Floor
  • What is a Coniferous Forest?
    Coniferous Forests contain trees that have needles for leaves, such as pines, firs and cedars that are never bare. They have their seeds in cones and they lose their needles gradually.
    What is a Deciduous Forest?
    Deciduous Forests contain trees that reduce the amount of green chlorophyll in their leaves, and then turn orange, yellow, red and brown. Falling leaves create thick leaf litter on the forest floor that will become recycled into the soil.
    What is a Broad-leaved Forest?
    Broad-leaved Forests contain trees that have flat leathery leaves that do not lose all their leaves at once. Their leaves are waxy to keep them from losing too much water and these forests are dry and cool.

    Bamboo Bears
    Pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively. The average Giant Panda spends 10 to 16 hours foraging and eats as much as 20 to 30 pounds of bamboo shoots per day. Although Pandas eat bamboo, they have the digestive system of a carnivore. They do not have the ability to easily digest cellulose and bamboo provides little energy or protein, accounting for their sluggish speed.

    The Panda Thumb
    The Giant Panda has an unusual paw, with a "thumb" and five fingers. An elongated and enlarged sesamoid bone sticks out just below the real finger and is covered with a fleshy pad of skin. To hold a piece of bamboo, a panda wraps all five fingers around one side of the stalk and then holds it in place by pushing the wrist bone forward.

    Bamboo Gardening
    Bamboo can range in size from inches to over one hundred feet and it can grow a foot or more a day. There are approximately 1,000 species of bamboo. They are recognizable by their nodes, the joints between the hollow segments of branch or culm.

  • Bamboo prefers full sun and plenty of water.
  • Adequate water is required to send out new culms.
  • Standing water inhibits the growth of bamboo.
  • Bamboo requires an area that is free from weeds.
  • Taller bamboo should be staked, to prevent uprooting.
  • Mulching controls moisture and provides protection in winter.
  • Prune Bamboo annually to remove old or damaged culms.
  • Giant Panda Babies
    Baby pandas are born very small and helpless. The father has no part in the raising and the mother is able to care for only one cub at a time. The cubs are able to eat small quantities of bamboo after six months, though mother's milk remains the primary food source for most of the first year. Growth is slow and pandas may not reach maturity until they are five to seven years old. A female panda may have 2-3 cubs in a lifetime, on average.

    Panda Mating Season…
    The pollution and destruction of the Giant Panda natural habitat has caused reproduction of wild pandas to be severely limited. The Giant Panda mating season usually takes place from mid-March to mid-May. The average gestation period is 135 days. The interval between births in the wild is generally two years. Difficulty in inducing captive pandas to mate threatens their already diminished population. The female’s short fertility cycles and low birth rates make raising captive pandas an uphill battle.

    Panda Cub Facts…

  • Pandas can become pregnant only once a year in the spring.
  • Females give birth between 95 and 160 days after mating.
  • Newborns are blind at birth, weighing only 3 to 5 ounces.
  • After one week, dark patches appear near the eyes and ears.
  • Baby pandas’ eyes open when they are about one month old.
  • The baby remains in the den hidden for over three months.
  • Giant panda cubs begin to crawl when they are 3-4 months old.
  • Seven-nine months old, panda cubs begin to eat bamboo shoots.
  • Giant panda cubs stay with their mothers for up to three years.
  • Barking calls and scents draw males and females to each other.
  • They have sharp, strong claws on both their front and back feet.
  • A female panda may raise successfully only five to eight cubs.
  • An Endangered Species…

    Endangered species are at risk of becoming extinct due to many factors. Giant panda survival is threatened by habitat loss, low breeding rates and declining population.
  • Extinct - remaining member of species is presumed to have died.
  • Extinct in the Wild - Captives survive and natural population has died.
  • Critically Endangered - An extremely high risk of immediate extinction.
  • Endangered Species - A very high risk of extinction in the near future.
  • An Umbrella Species…
    Protecting the panda protects the habitat for other wildlife that is overlooked but is critical to the biodiversity of a forest. The temperature of the mountainous regions of China has increased and the panda has moved to a higher altitude with limited space causing the population to decrease.

    China Conservation and Research Center…
    China has seven Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries that are located high in the mountains of western China's Sichuan Province. The protected temperate forest of is a critical habitat for the survival of the endangered giant panda. Wolong Nature Reserve and The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda is home to over 6,000 species of plants and animals, and is one of the last protected homes of both the giant and red pandas. Wolong Nature Reserve has a dedicated staff to ensure the survival of the species.

    The Sichuan Panda
    The Sichuan Giant Panda is the familiar black and white bear that lives only in southwest China in a few isolated mountain ranges in the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu of south central China.
    The Qinling Panda
    The Qinling Giant Panda differs from the more familiar variety by its brown fur, and smaller skull. It has a light brown pattern and larger molars. Giant Pandas are distantly related to Red Pandas sharing characteristics from the bear family.
    The Red Panda
    The Red Panda is slightly larger than a domestic cat with semi-retractile claws and, like the Giant Panda, has a "false thumb" which is really an extension of the wrist bone. The Red Panda is classified as an endangered species.
    The Clouded Leopard
    The Clouded Leopard is a medium-sized cat and is distinctively marked with large, irregularly shaped, dark-edged ellipses that are said to be shaped like clouds, hence both its common and original scientific name. It is found in southern China and is under the Endangered Species Act.
    The Snow Leopard
    The Snow Leopard is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of central and southern Asia. Well known for its beautiful fur, the Snow Leopard has a soft grey coat with ringed spots and rosettes of black on brown. It is an endangered species whose pelts command a very high price in the fur market.

    Giant Pandas in Zoos
    China offers pandas to other nations on 10-year loans, a practice that has been termed "Panda Diplomacy". American zoos pay fees to the Chinese government as part of what is typically a ten-year contract. A panda costs five times more than the most expensive animal. In 1936 the first giant panda cub was brought back to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Giant Pandas can usually live to be 20-30 years old while living in captivity. Zoos typically maintain the pandas' bamboo diet, though some will provide specially formulated diets.

    Pandas live in five zoos in North America:
  • San Diego Zoo in California
  • National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
  • Zoo Atlanta in Georgia
  • Memphis Zoo in Tennessee
  • Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City
  • The Smithsonian National Zoo
    The National Zoo is located in Washington, D.C. The zoo’s Giant Panda Habitat houses the zoo's pair of giant pandas on loan from the Chinese government. The zoo pays an estimated 10 million dollars for the 10-year loan. The exhibit Asia Trail features state of the art exhibits for sloth bears, clouded leopards, red pandas, a Japanese giant salamander and of course, the giant pandas.
    Zoo Atlanta
    Zoo Atlanta is a wildlife park and major attraction in Atlanta, Georgia. The 40-acre zoo, features almost 1,000 animals representing 250 species from around the world. Among the Zoo's most notable holdings are three giant pandas, Lun Lun, Yang Yang, and Mei Lan, on loan from China's Chengdu Zoo. The Zoo Atlanta is recognized as one of the finest zoological parks in the nation.
    The Memphis Zoo
    The Memphis Zoo is a zoo located in Memphis, Tennessee. It is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. The zoo hosts state-of-the art exhibits that mimic the animals' natural habitats including Northwest Passage and CHINA. It is home to 2 giant pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le.
    Chapultepec Zoo
    Chapultepec Zoo is located near Mexico City and is popular for its large collection of over 2000 animals from more 200 different species. The Zoo is especially famous for its three female Giant Pandas, Xiu Hua, Shuan Shuan and Xin Xin. It was home to the first giant panda to be born in captivity outside China.
    San Diego Zoo
    The world-famous San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, California is one of the largest, most progressive zoos in the world with over 4,000 animals of more than 800 species. The Zoo raises 40 varieties of bamboo for the pandas on long-term loan from China. It maintains the department of Conservation for Reproduction of Endangered Species and is extremely active in conservation and species-preservation efforts.

    Chinese National Emblem
    While the Chinese dragon has been historically a national emblem for China, the Giant Panda has also become an informal national emblem for China. The panda image has also become an American icon and its image is used nationwide.
  • The World Wide Fund for Nature uses a panda logo.
  • Panda Express uses a panda logo for its American Chinese Restaurant.
  • Washington, D.C. Metro fare cards incorporate a panda design.
  • Chinese commemorative coins use multiple panda images.
  • Large Bear Cat
    “Xiongmao” is the Chinese language name for the giant panda translates to "large bear cat". Most bears' eyes have round pupils. Giant pandas have unusual vertical slits like cats' eyes and they have the ability to effortlessly scale trees.

    Sleeping Dragon
    “Wo Long” is the Chinese name for the Qilning Mountain Range meaning “Sleeping Dragon.” It describes the mountains’ silhouette, which resembles the shape of China’s national emblem, the Chinese dragon.