The Giant Panda
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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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 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
The Forest Floor
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.
Pandas can become pregnant only once a year in
Females give birth between 95 and 160 days after
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
Giant panda cubs begin to crawl when they are
3-4 months old.
Seven-nine months old, panda cubs begin to eat
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.
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
China Conservation and
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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 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 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 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.
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
Washington, D.C. Metro fare cards incorporate a
Chinese commemorative coins use multiple panda
“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.
“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.