-Giant panda scientific name is Ailuropoda melanoleuca, which means “black and white cat-foot”.
-Once classified under the racoon family, molecular studies have finally suggested that giant pandas are part of the bear family.
-Scientists don’t know why giant pandas are black and white. Some speculate that this colouring provides an effective camouflage in their snowy and rocky surroundings.
Personally, I prefer the theory of this Tibetan tale, beautifully illustrated by WWF:
-Under their white fur, their skin is pale in colour and under their black fur, their skin is black.
-Giant pandas are listed as an endangered species.
-There are about 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild.
-Giant panda has been the logo of WWF since its creation in 1961.
-Giant pandas were once widespread throughout southern and eastern China both in mountainous and lowland regions. But due to farming and forest clearing for expanding human populations and development, the species is now restricted to isolated patches of mountain ranges in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.
|Map from WWF
|Map from WWF
-It has been illegal to kill pandas in China since the 1960s. However, hunting remains an ever-present threat even if poaching the animals for their fur has declined due to strict laws and greater public awareness of the panda’s protected status.
-99 % of giant panda’s diet consists of bamboo. The remaining 1 % is made up of other plants and meat.
-Unlike cows and other herbivorous mammals, giant pandas don’t have a complicated digestive system that allows them to draw the energy from plant material. On the contrary, they have a short digestive system similar to that of carnivores, which only retains little energy and protein from the consumption of bamboo. Pretty much of what they eat is being passed as waste. To make up for their inefficient digestion, giant pandas need to consume a large amount of food: they eat an average of 15 kilos of bamboo per day, which takes them about 15 hours.
-Giant pandas don’t hibernate. Living on a diet of mostly bamboo means that they have little fat and wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves during a long period of fast.
-Giant panda can only eat 25 different types of bamboo over more than 1000 species.
-Giant pandas eat sitting down. This posture frees up their front paws to hold bamboo.
-Giant pandas have 6 digits on their paws, 5 fingers and a “false thumb” which is opposable and helps them holding bamboo.
-Giant pandas are by nature solitary animals, for most of the time avoiding direct contact with others of their own kind.
-Giant pandas are good climbers and swimmers.
-Adult giant pandas range in body length from about 1.6 to 1.9 meter (5.2 to 6.2 feet).
When on all fours, their back is about 1 meter (3 feet) off the ground.
Males are slightly longer than females and are 10 to 20 percent heavier. In the wild, males weigh from 85 to 125 kilos (190 to 275 pounds), while females range between 70 and 100 kilos (155 to 220 pounds).
-The life span of giant pandas in the wild is approximately 20 years.
-Giant pandas reach sexual maturity between 4 and 8 years of age, and may be reproductive until 20.
-The mating season takes place between March and May. Female pandas ovulate only once a year, in the spring. A short period of two to three days around ovulation is the only time she is able to conceive.
-Like for polar bears, delayed implantation gives the giant panda more control over when cubs are born because birth dates are not precisely fixed by mating dates. As a result, we do not know precisely the length of the giant panda’s actual gestation period. All we can say is that the time from mating to birth ranges from 95 to 160 days.
Young are usually born from August to September. The general timing of giant panda reproduction is determined by the importance of weaning cubs in the spring, when the newest most protein-filled bamboo shoots are available. This gives cubs the best possible start in life on a diet that is of poor nutritional quality.
-Litters of one or two cubs are the most common. Due to their low-calorie bamboo diet and the fact that baby pandas are born to small and helpless and therefore need their mother’s undivided attention, the female can’t support more than one cub and will abandon the weaker.
-Cubs are born and raised in a den at the base of a hollow tree or in a cave.
-A newborn giant panda measures just 15 centimetres (0,5 feet) and weights only 90 to 130 grams (3.2 to 4.6 ounces), which is about 1/900 of the mother’s weight. It you think about it, it’s about the size of a stick of butter!
Their poor, low-energy bamboo diet prevents giant pandas from devoting much energy to gestation or lactation. As a result, giant pandas are the smallest newborn of any nonmarsupial mammal and they grow very slowly.
|Photo credit: Katherine Feng
-A newborn giant panda is born pink, covered in sparse, short white hairs.
At about a week old, black patches appear on the skin around the eyes, ears, shoulders, and legs. Black hairs will grow in these areas a couple of weeks later.
After about one month, the cub looks like a miniature adults.
-A cub doesn’t open its eyes until it’s 6 to 8 weeks of age and is not mobile until 3 months.
-A cub is fully weaned at 8 to 9 months but will stay with its mother until she conceives again, usually at about 18 months. This means a female, at best, can produce young only every other year; in her lifetime, she may successfully raise only five to eight cubs.
This low reproductive rate makes it very difficult for a giant panda population to recover from a decline in numbers due to habitat loss and illegal hunting.
-I normally don’t like to talk about animals in captivity, but this is too clever and funny not to be mentioned. Indeed, female giant pandas can fake pregnancy! Why? To receive extra care and food. And contrary to what one may think, it’s not that easy to disconfirm. Indeed, they tend to adopt the same behaviour, to produce the same hormones and the fœtus is so small that it can even difficult to find even with an ultrasound system. Who will blame them?
-Despite their name and their cuteness, giant pandas and red pandas are not closely related.
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