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Giant Panda
Giant Panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ailuropoda
Species: A. melanoleuca
Binomial name
Ailuropoda melanoleuca
(David, 1869)
Giant Panda range

The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, literally meaning "cat-foot black-and-white") is a mammal native to central-western and south western China.[2] The Giant Panda is a member of the Ursidae (bear) family.[3] It is easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the Giant Panda's diet is 99% bamboo. Other parts of its diet include honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, and bananas when available.

The Giant Panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Due to farming, deforestation, and other development, the Giant Panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived.

The Giant Panda is a conservation reliant endangered species.[2] A 2007 report shows 239 Giant Pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country.[4] Wild population estimates vary; one estimate shows that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild, [4] while a 2006 study via DNA analysis estimated that this figure could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000.[5] Some reports also show that the number of Giant Pandas in the wild is on the rise.[6][7] However, the IUCN does not believe there is enough certainty yet to reclassify the species from Endangered to Vulnerable.[1]

While the dragon has historically served as China's national emblem, in recent decades the Giant Panda has also served as an emblem for the country. Its image appears on a large number of modern Chinese commemorative silver, gold, and platinum coins. Though the Giant Panda is often assumed to be docile, it has been known to attack humans, presumably out of irritation rather than predatory behavior.[8][9][10]



A Giant Panda cub. At birth, the Giant Panda typically weighs 100–200 g (4–8 oz) and measures 15–17 cm (6–6.7") long[11]

The Giant Panda has a black-and-white coat. Adults measure around 1.5 m long and around 75 cm tall at the shoulder. Males are 10–20% larger than females.[12] Males can weigh up to 150 kg (330 pounds). Females are generally smaller than males, and can occasionally weigh up to 125 kg (275 pounds).[2] The Giant Panda lives in mountainous regions, such as Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.

The Giant Panda has a body shape typical of bears. It has black fur on its ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, arms and shoulders. The rest of the animal's coat is white. Although scientists do not know why these unusual bears are black and white, some speculate that the bold coloring provides effective camouflage into its shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings. The Giant Panda's thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat. The Giant Panda has large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo.

The Giant Panda's paw has a "thumb" and five fingers; the "thumb" is actually a modified sesamoid bone, which helps the Giant Panda to hold bamboo while eating. Stephen Jay Gould used this example in his book of essays concerned with evolution and biology, The Panda's Thumb.

The Giant Panda has the second longest tail in the bear family, with one that is 4–6 inches (150 mm) long. The longest belongs to the Sloth Bear.[12]

The Giant Panda can usually live to be 25–30 years old in captivity.


In the wild, the Giant Panda is a terrestrial animal and primarily spends its life roaming and feeding in the bamboo forests of the Qinling Mountains and in the hilly Sichuan Province.[13] Though generally alone, each adult has a defined territory and females are not tolerant of other females in their range. Pandas communicate through vocalization and scent marking such as clawing trees or spraying urine.[2] The Giant Panda is able to climb and take shelter in hollow trees or rock crevices but does not establish permanent dens. For this reason, pandas do not hibernate, which is similar to other subtropical mammals, and will instead move to elevations with warmer temperatures.[14] Pandas rely primarily on spatial memory rather than visual memory.[15]

Social encounters occur primarily during the brief breeding season in which pandas in proximity to one another will gather.[16] After mating, the male leaves the female alone to raise the cub.


Pandas eating bamboo at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Despite its taxonomic classification as a carnivore, the Giant Panda has a diet that is primarily herbivorous, which consists almost exclusively of bamboo. However, the Giant Panda still has the digestive system of a carnivore and does not have the ability to digest cellulose efficiently, and thus derives little energy and little protein from consumption of bamboo. The average Giant Panda eats as much as 9 to 14 kg (20 to 30 pounds) of bamboo shoots a day. Because the Giant Panda consumes a diet low in nutrition, it is important for it to keep its digestive tract full. The limited energy input imposed on it by its diet has affected the panda's behavior. The Giant Panda tends to limit its social interactions and avoids steeply sloping terrain in order to limit its energy expenditures.[17]

Two of the panda's most distinctive features, its large size and its round face, are adaptations to its bamboo diet. Panda researcher Russell Ciochon observed that: “[much] like the vegetarian gorilla, the low body surface area to body volume [of the giant panda] is indicative of a lower metabolic rate. This lower metabolic rate and a more sedentary lifestyle allow the giant panda to subsist on nutrient poor resources such as bamboo.”[17] Similarly, the Giant Panda's round face is the result of powerful jaw muscles, which attach from the top of the head to the jaw.[17] Large molars crush and grind fibrous plant material.

Panda eating bamboo

Twenty-five species of bamboo are eaten by pandas in the wild, such as Fargesia dracocephala[18] and Fargesia rufa.[19] Only a few bamboo species are widespread at the high altitudes pandas now inhabit. Bamboo leaves contain the highest protein levels; stems have less.

Because of the synchronous flowering, death, and regeneration of all bamboo within a species, the Giant Panda must have at least two different species available in its range to avoid starvation. While primarily herbivorous, the Giant Panda still retains decidedly ursine teeth, and will eat meat, fish, and eggs when available. In captivity, zoos typically maintain the Giant Panda's bamboo diet, though some will provide specially formulated biscuits or other dietary supplements.


The giant panda genome was sequenced in 2009 using a next-generation sequencing technology.[20] Its genome contains 20 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes.


For many decades the precise taxonomic classification of the Giant Panda was under debate because it shares characteristics of both bears and raccoons. However, molecular studies suggest that the Giant Panda is a true bear and part of the Ursidae family,[21][22] though it differentiated early in history from the main ursine stock. The Giant Panda's closest ursine relative is the Spectacled Bear of South America. The Giant Panda has been referred to as a living fossil.[23]

Despite the shared name, habitat type, and diet, as well as a unique enlarged bone called the pseudo thumb (which helps them grip the bamboo shoots they eat), the Giant Panda and Red Panda are only distantly related. Molecular studies have placed the Red Panda in its own family Ailuridae, and not under Ursidae.

Hua Mei, the baby panda born at the San Diego Zoo in 1999


Two subspecies of Giant Panda have been recognized on the basis of distinct cranial measurements, color patterns, and population genetics (Wan et al., 2005).

  • The nominate subspecies Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca consists of most extant populations of panda. These animals are principally found in Sichuan and display the typical stark black and white contrasting colors.
  • The Qinling Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis is restricted to the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi at elevations of 1300–3000 m. The typical black and white pattern of Sichuan Giant Pandas is replaced with a dark brown versus light brown pattern. The skull of A. m. qinlingensis is smaller than its relatives, and it has larger molars.

Uses and human interaction

In the past, pandas were thought to be rare and noble creatures – the mother of Emperor Wen of Han was buried with a panda skull in her vault. The grandson of Emperor Taizong of Tang is said to have given Japan two pandas and a sheet of panda skin as a sign of goodwill. Unlike many other animals in Ancient China, pandas were rarely thought to have medical uses. The few known uses include the Sichuan tribal peoples' use of panda urine to melt accidentally swallowed needles, and the use of panda pelts to control menses as described in the Qin Dynasty encyclopedia Erya.[24]

The Giant Panda was first made known to the West in 1869 by the French missionary, Armand David, who received a skin from a hunter on March 11, 1869. The first Westerner known to have seen a living Giant Panda is the German zoologist Hugo Weigold, who purchased a cub in 1916. Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., became the first foreigners to shoot a panda, on an expedition funded by the Field Museum of Natural History in the 1920s. In 1936, Ruth Harkness became the first Westerner to bring back a live Giant Panda, a cub named Su-Lin[25] who went to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. These activities were halted in 1937 because of wars; for the next half of the century, the West knew little of pandas.

Gao Gao, an adult male Giant Panda at San Diego Zoo

Panda diplomacy

Loans of Giant Pandas to American and Japanese zoos formed an important part of the diplomacy of the People's Republic of China in the 1970s, as it marked some of the first cultural exchanges between the People's Republic and the West. This practice has been termed "Panda Diplomacy".

By 1984, however, pandas were no longer used as agents of diplomacy. Instead, China began to offer pandas to other nations only on 10-year loans. The standard loan terms include a fee of up to US$1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born during the loan are the property of the People's Republic of China. Since 1998, due to a WWF lawsuit, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service only allows a U.S. zoo to import a panda if the zoo can ensure that China will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for the Giant Panda and its habitat.

In May 2005, China offered a breeding pair to Taiwan. The issue became embroiled in cross-Strait relations—both over the underlying symbolism, and over technical issues such as whether the transfer would be considered "domestic" or "international," or whether any true conservation purpose would be served by the exchange.[26] China's offer was initially rejected by President Chen of Taiwan. However when the presidency changed hands China's offer was accepted at the beginning of Ma Ying-jeou's presidency in 2008, and the pandas themselves arrived in December of that year. A contest to name the pandas was held in China, resulting in the politically charged names "Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan" (from tuanyuan, meaning "reunion").[27]


The Giant Panda is an endangered species, threatened by continued habitat loss and by a very low birthrate, both in the wild and in captivity.

The Giant Panda has been a target for poaching by locals since ancient times, and by foreigners since it was introduced to the West. Starting in the 1930s, foreigners were unable to poach Giant Pandas in China because of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War, but pandas remained a source of soft furs for the locals. The population boom in China after 1949 created stress on the pandas' habitat, and the subsequent famines led to the increased hunting of wildlife, including pandas. During the Cultural Revolution, all studies and conservation activities on the pandas were stopped. After the Chinese economic reform, demand for panda skins from Hong Kong and Japan led to illegal poaching for the black market, acts generally ignored by the local officials at the time.

Close up of a baby seven-month old panda cub in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan, China.

Though the Wolong National Nature Reserve was set up by the PRC government in 1958 to save the declining panda population, few advances in the conservation of pandas were made, due to inexperience and insufficient knowledge of ecology. Many believed that the best way to save the pandas was to cage them. As a result, pandas were caged at any sign of decline, and suffered from terrible conditions. Because of pollution and destruction of their natural habitat, along with segregation due to caging, reproduction of wild pandas was severely limited. In the 1990s, however, several laws (including gun control and the removal of resident humans from the reserves) helped the chances of survival for pandas. With these renewed efforts and improved conservation methods, wild pandas have started to increase in numbers in some areas, even though they still are classified as a rare species.

In 2006, scientists reported that the number of pandas living in the wild may have been underestimated at about 1,000. Previous population surveys had used conventional methods to estimate the size of the wild panda population, but using a new method that analyzes DNA from panda droppings, scientists believe that the wild panda population may be as large as 3,000. Although the species is still endangered, it is thought that the conservation efforts are working. As of 2006, there were 40 panda reserves in China, compared to just 13 reserves two decades ago.[5]

The Giant Panda is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals, and is one of the few in the world whose natural inhabitant status was able to gain a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, located in the southwest Sichuan province and covering seven natural reserves, were inscribed onto the World Heritage List in 2009.[28][29]

Not all conservationists agree that the money spent on conserving pandas is money well spent. Chris Packham has argued that breeding pandas in captivity is "pointless" because "there is not enough habitat left to sustain them", a point of view with which David Bellamy agrees, pointing out that even the WWF accepts that "there is no longer enough land for them to live on".[30] Packham argues that the money spent on pandas would be better spent elsewhere,[30] and has said that he would "eat the last panda if I could have all the money we have spent on panda conservation put back on the table for me to do more sensible things with,"[31] a comment for which he has since apologized.[32] He points out that "The panda is possibly one of the grossest wastes of conservation money in the last half century. The panda is, unfortunately, virtually unsavable. It lives in the most overpopulated country in the world, it feeds on plants when it ought to be eating partially meat, it transfers all sorts of nasty diseases among itself, it tastes nice and it's got a coat that looks good on someone's back".[31]


Panda Research and Breeding Centre in Chengdu

Initially the primary method of breeding Giant Pandas in captivity was by artificial insemination, as they seemed to lose their interest in mating once they were captured.[33] This led some scientists to try extreme methods such as showing them videos of giant Pandas mating[34] and giving the males Viagra.[35] Only recently have researchers started having success with captive breeding programs, and they have now determined that Giant Pandas have comparable breeding to some populations of the American Black Bear, a thriving bear family. The current reproductive rate is considered one young every two years.[7][13]

Giant Pandas reach sexual maturity between the ages of four and eight, and may be reproductive until age 20.[36] The mating season is between March and May, when a female goes into her estrous cycle which lasts for two or three days and only occurs once a year.[37] When mating, the female is in a crouching, head-down position as the male mounts her from behind. Copulation time is short, ranging from thirty seconds to five minutes, but the male may mount her repeatedly to ensure successful fertilization. The gestation period ranges from 95 to 160 days.[37] Cubs weigh only 90 to 130 grams (3.2 to 4.6 ounces), which is about 1/900 of the mother's weight. Usually, the female gives birth to one or two cubs. Since cubs are born very small and helpless, they need the mother's undivided attention, so she is able to care for only one of her cubs. She usually abandons one of her cubs, and it dies soon after birth. At this time, scientists do not know how the female chooses which cub to raise, and this is a topic of ongoing research. The father has no part in helping raise the cub.

When the cub is first born, it is pink, furless, and blind. A Giant Panda cub is also extremely small, and it is difficult for the mother to protect it because of the baby's size. It nurses from its mother's breast 6 to 14 times a day for up to 30 minutes at a time. For three to four hours, the mother may leave the den to feed, which leaves the cub defenseless. One to two weeks after birth, the cub's skin turns gray where its hair will eventually become black. A slight pink color may appear on cub's fur, as a result of a chemical reaction between the fur and its mother's saliva. A month after birth, the color pattern of the cub's fur is fully developed. A cub's fur is very soft and coarsens with age. The cub begins to crawl at 75 to 90 days; mothers play with their cubs by rolling and wrestling with them. 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. Giant Panda cubs weigh 45 kg (99.2 pounds) at one year, and live with their mothers until they are 18 months to two years old. The interval between births in the wild is generally two years.

In July 2009, Chinese scientists confirmed the birth of the first cub to be successfully conceived through artificial insemination using frozen sperm.[38 ] The cub was born at 07:41 on 23 July that year in Sichuan as the third child of You You, an 11-year-old.[38 ] [39][40 ] The technique for freezing the sperm in liquid nitrogen was first developed in 1980 and the first birth was hailed as a solution to the problem of lessening Giant Panda semen availability which had led to in-breeding.[40 ] [41] It has been suggested that panda semen, which can be frozen for decades, could be shared between different zoos to save the species.[38 ] [39] It is expected that zoos in destinations such as San Diego in the United States and Mexico City will now be able to provide their own semen to inseminate more Giant Pandas. [41]


There is no conclusive source for the origin of the Anglicized name "panda." The closest candidate that has been accepted as the source originates in the Nepali word ponya, possibly referring to the adapted wrist bone. The Western world originally applied this name to the Red Panda. Until 1901, when it was erroneously stated that it was related to the Red Panda, the Giant Panda was known as "mottled bear" (Ailuropus melanoleucus) or "particolored bear."[42]

In most encyclopedic sources, the name "panda" or "common panda" originally referred to the lesser-known Red Panda,[43] thus necessitated the inclusion of "giant" and "lesser/red" prefixes in front of the names. Even now, Encyclopaedia Britannica still uses "giant panda" or "panda bear" for the bear [44] and simply "panda" for the Ailuridae,[45] despite the popular usage of the word "panda" today.

Since the earliest collection of Chinese writings, the Chinese language has given the bear 20 different names, such as 花熊 (hua xiong) "spotted bear" and 竹熊 (zhu xiong) "bamboo bear."[46] The most popular names in China today are 大熊貓 (dà xióng māo), literally "large bear cat," or just 熊貓 (xióng māo), "bear cat." The name may have been inspired by the Giant Panda's eyes which have pupils that are cat-like vertical slits unlike other bear species with round pupils.[47]

In Taiwan, the popular name for panda is the inverted 貓熊 (māo xióng) "cat bear," even though many encyclopedia and dictionaries in Taiwan still use "bear cat" as the correct name. Some linguists argue that, in this construction, "bear" instead of "cat" is the base noun, making this name more grammatically and logically correct, which may have led to the popular choice despite official writings.[46]

Pandas in zoos

Pandas have been kept in zoos as early as the Western Han Dynasty in China, where the writer Sima Xiangru notes that the panda was the most treasured animal in the emperor's garden of exotic animals in Xi'an. Not until the 1950s were pandas again recorded to have been exhibited in China's zoos.[48]

A 2006 New York Times article[49] outlined the economics of keeping pandas, which costs five times more than that of the next most expensive animal, an elephant. American zoos generally pay the Chinese government $1 million a year in fees, as part of a typical ten-year contract. San Diego's contract with China was to expire in 2008 but got a five-year extension at about half of the previous yearly cost.[50] The last contract, with the Memphis Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee, ends in 2013.



  • Adelaide Zoo, Adelaide – home to Wang Wang (M) and Funi (F). They arrived on November 28 and will go on display on December 14, 2009. They are expected to stay for a minimum of 10 years, and will be the only Giant Pandas living in the Southern Hemisphere.


Giant Panda in Vienna’s zoo Tiergarten Schönbrunn
Bai Yun at San Diego Zoo, has given birth to 4 cubs in captivity and is considered one of the most successfully reproductive captive pandas
Tai Shan in June 2007
  • Zoologischer Garten Berlin, Berlin, Germany – home of Bao Bao, age 27, the oldest male panda living in captivity; he has been in Berlin for 25 years and has never reproduced.
  • Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria – home to Yang Yang (F) and Long Hui (M), born in Wolong, China in 2000, and their new cub, Fu Long (M), born on August 23, 2007 at the zoo.[60] The cub was the first to be born in Europe in 25 years.
  • Zoo Aquarium, Madrid, Spain – home of Bing Xing (M) and Hua Zuiba (F). Arrived in Madrid on September 8, 2007. In 1978 China presented the King of Spain with two pandas, Shao Shao and Quian Quiang. Their cub, Chu-lin, born in 1982 died in 1996. Chu-lin was the first panda born in captivity using artificial insemination in Europe.[61]
  • The Edinburgh Zoo is currently in negotiations with the Wolong Nature Preserve to obtain two Giant Pandas.

North America

As of 2007, five major North American zoos have Giant Pandas:

Notable North American–born pandas

  • Tohui (Nahuatl word for kid), born July 21, 1981, died November 16, 1993; female. Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico City. Was the first giant panda that was born and survived in captivity outside China. Her parents were Ying Ying and Pe Pe.
  • Hua Mei, born 1999 in the San Diego Zoo, returned to China 2004.
  • Mei Sheng, born 2003 in the San Diego Zoo, returned to China 2007.
  • Tai Shan, born July 9, 2005 at the National Zoo in Washington.[62]
  • Su Lin, born August 2, 2005 at the San Diego Zoo.
  • Mei Lan, born September 6, 2006 at Zoo Atlanta.
  • Zhen Zhen, born August 3, 2007 at the San Diego Zoo.
  • Xi Lan, born August 30, 2008 at Zoo Atlanta.
  • Yun Zi, born August 5, 2009 at the San Diego Zoo.

Pandas in media

The first sequences of pandas in the wild were shot by Franz Camenzind for ABC in about 1982. They were bought by BBC Natural History Unit for their weekly magazine show Nature.

Recently, NHNZ has featured pandas in two documentaries. Panda Nursery (2006) featured China’s Wolong National Nature Reserve in the mountains in Sichuan Province; forty Giant Pandas and a dedicated team of staff play a crucial role in ensuring the survival of the species. As part of the Reserve’s panda breeding program, a revolutionary new method of rearing twin cubs called ‘swap-raising’ has been developed. Each cub is raised by both its natural mother and one of the Reserve’s veterinarians, Wei Rongping, to increase the chances of both cubs surviving. Growing Up: Giant Panda (2003) featured Chengdu Giant Panda Center in south-west China as one of the best in the world. Yet with female pandas' short fertility cycles and low birth rates, raising the captive panda population is an uphill battle.

See also


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  42. ^ Alex Hawes and Matthew Huy (2001). "Whats in a Name? Giant Panda". Smithsonian National Zoo.  
  43. ^ "Animal Info – Red Panda".  
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  45. ^
  46. ^ a b "Discussion about the Chinese name for giant panda (in Chinese)".  
  47. ^ Rita Putatunda (2008-02-15). "Facts on Pandas".  
  48. ^ Schaller pg.62.
  49. ^ Goodman, Brenda (February 12, 2006). "Eats Shoots, Leaves and Much of Zoos' Budgets".  
  50. ^ "Zoo negotiates lower price to rent bears from China". 2008-12-13.  
  51. ^ "Japan-born cub returns to ancestral home".  
  52. ^ a b "Panda news from". 2007-01-04. Retrieved 2009-03-14.  
  53. ^ "Hong Kong welcomes two giant pandas from China". Hong Kong Digest.  
  54. ^ Casey, Michael (May 27, 2009). "Thai zoo surprised by panda cub birth". Associated Press.  
  55. ^ Casey, Michael (May 28, 2009). "China experts say Thailand's panda cub healthy". Associated Press.  
  56. ^ "Japanese giant panda twins". LA Times.  
  57. ^ "Japanese giant panda twins named".  
  58. ^ "Mei Mei of Adventure World, Japan has died".  
  59. ^ "Mei Mei dies".  
  60. ^ Oleksyn, Veronika (2007-08-23). "Panda gives surprise birth in Austria". AP via Yahoo! News.;_ylt=AlL3xT8wyJr1.OzERBuxLYR0bBAF. Retrieved 2007-08-24.  
  61. ^ "Pandas sent off to Spain". Retrieved 2009-05-05.  
  62. ^ Lumpkin & Seidensticker 114


  • AFP (via Discovery Channel) (2006, June 20). Panda Numbers Exceed Expectations.
  • Associated Press (via CNN) (2006). Article link.
  • Catton, Chris (1990). Pandas. Christopher Helm.
  • Friends of the National Zoo (2006). Panda Cam: A Nation Watches Tai Shan the Panda Cub Grow. New York: Fireside Books.
  • Goodman, Brenda (2006, February 12). Pandas Eat Up Much of Zoos' Budgets. The New York Times.
  • Lumpkin, Susan; Seidensticker, John (2007). Giant Pandas. London: Collins. ISBN 0-06-120578-8.  
  • Panda Facts At a Glance (N.d.). WWF China.
  • Ryder, Joanne (2001). Little panda: The World Welcomes Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Schaller, George B. (1993). The Last Panda. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.
  • Wan, Q.-H., H. Wu, and S.-G. Fang (2005). "A New Subspecies of Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) from Shaanxi, China. Journal of Mammalogy 86: 397–402.
  • Warren, Lynne (2006, July). "Panda, Inc." National Geographic. (About Mei Xiang, Tai Shan and the Wolong Panda Research Facility in Chengdu China).

External links

Simple English

Giant Panda
File:Giant Panda
Giant panda at Washington, D.C.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ailuropoda
Species: A. melanoleuca
Binomial name
Ailuropoda melanoleuca
(David, 1869)
File:Mapa distribuicao Ailuropoda
Giant panda range

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, meaning "black and white cat-foot")[1] is a type of bear. It lives in bamboo forests in central China. The giant panda is an endangered animal.[2] In November 2007, China had 239 giant pandas who lived in captivity.[3] There are 27 giant pandas which live in zoos outside of China. The exact number of giant pandas in the wild is not known.[2] Some sources say there are about 1,590,[3] other sources give a number between 2,000 and 3,000.[4] The number of giant pandas in the wild seems to be increasing.[5]



[[File:|left|thumb|250px|A giant panda baby, about one week old.]] Giant pandas are about 1.2 - 1.5 m long and about 75 cm high. They weigh between 75 and 160 kg. Giant pandas have white fur on their bodies and black fur on their legs and shoulders. They also have black ears and black patches around their eyes. Pandas can climb and swim well.[6]

Giant pandas are born with pink skin with black areas on the legs, ears and eyes. They are usually born with a small amount of white fur. They get more fur when they are about nine months old.[6].


[[File:|left|thumb|upright|Hua Mei (giant panda)|Hua Mei, the baby panda born at the San Diego Zoo in 1999]] A giant panda is a type of bear. Its closest "bear relative" is the Spectacled Bear of South America.[7] There is another type of creature that shares the giant panda's habitat and has many similar traits. This is the red panda, which scientists thought must be related. But a giant panda is a bear, and a red panda is more closely related to a raccoon or a skunk. The red and giant pandas have many things in common.[8] Both have a similar diet, eating mostly bamboo.[8] They also have the same kind of enlarged bone, called a pseudothumb. This allows them to better grip the bamboo they eat. Red and giant pandas also live in the same habitat. [9][10] Some people have called the giant panda a living fossil.[11] Most other species closely related to the Giant Panda do not exist anymore. There is now only one species under the genus of Ailuropoda.

Currently there are two subspecies of giant panda:

  • Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca - Most pandas belong to this subspecies. Most of these animals can be found in Sichuan, China. They have the typical dark black and white contrasting colors.
  • Qinling Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis [12] - This subspecies is only found in the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi, China. They live between 1300 and 3000 m of altitude. Instead of the typical dark black and white pattern of Sichuan pandas, Qinling pandas have a dark brown versus light brown pattern. Their skull is smaller than their relatives, and it has larger molars.


Giant pandas live alone. Females have a territory which they defend against other females. When female pandas are ready to mate, they give off a special scent and make a loud bleating noise to tell the males that they are ready. Giant pandas mate between the months of March and May which is the Summer months in China. If there are several males, they fight each other. The one who wins - the strongest male, then mates with the female. In August or September, the female gives birth to 1-2 babies. If she has 2 babies, she will only raise one baby, and the other baby dies, no one really knows how the female panda choose between the two. Giant panda babies are very small, and weigh only 90 - 130 grams, which is about 1/900 of its mother's weight. The baby drinks milk until it is 8-9 months old. Young pandas live with their mothers until they are 18-24 months old. They become mature when they are 5-7 years old. They live around 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity (e.g. in zoos).[2] Unlike other bears, pandas do not hibernate.[13]

Giant pandas and humans

Today, the giant panda is seen as a symbol for China.[14][15] It is also protected by the Chinese government, and killing a panda is a crime.[16] The giant panda is now under the threat of extinction, and it will die out if the forests of bamboo continue to disappear.[2]

People outside of eastern Asia did not know about the giant panda until 1869. The first "Westerner" to see a live panda was a German zoologist in 1916. In 1936, Ruth Harkness became the first Westerner to bring a live giant panda out of China. It was a cub (baby panda) named Su-Lin. The cub was taken to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.[17]

In the 1970s, China began showing giant pandas in zoos in the United States and Japan as a type of diplomacy. This happened until 1984, when China changed how this was done. Starting in 1984, China would allow zoos to keep the giant pandas for 10 years, but the zoo would have to pay China up to $1,000,000 each year. Also, the zoo would have to agree that any cubs born were the property of China.[18]


File:Atlanta Zoo
One of three giant pandas at the Atlanta Zoo.

Currently, 12 cities outside of China have zoos that have giant pandas.

North America

The Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide, Australia got two giant pandas in 2009.[26]


[[File:|right|thumb|250 px|Giant pandas' main food source, bamboo.]] Although their bodies are made to eat meat, giant pandas are mostly herbivorous.[27] Their main source of food is bamboo.[2] Because pandas have the digestive system of carnivores and can not digest cellulose very well, they get little energy and protein from the bamboo they eat.[2] Because they get very little nutrition from bamboo, they must eat a lot.[2] Pandas commonly eat 20 to 30 pounds of bamboo a day to get the nutrition they need.[27] Although there are more than 200 different varieties of bamboo the Panda will only eat 20 varieties. Pandas sometimes run out of food, as a type of bamboo flowers, die, and regrow again at the same time.[28]

Protecting the giant panda

As of 2008, the giant bear is an endangered animal. The main problem they have is habitat loss. Habitat loss is when the places they live in, get wrecked by humans, for example for the construction of buildings. They might also lose their habitat because of pollution. Pollution will mean that the bamboo they depend on grows less, or it stops growing completely in a certain place. Giant pandas also have a low birth rate, which adds to the problem.[2]

Traditional Chinese tales about the giant pandas say that the animal can be very powerful. Some people believe that sleeping on a panda skin can protect them for ghost and predict their future. These tales are one of the reasons why people would spend lots of money for the skin and fur of this precious animal.

In former times, the pandas were also hunted. The Western people who came to China were soon unable to hunt the pandas, because of different wars. Local people continued though. Pandas were mainly hunted for their fur. Today, hunting pandas is forbidden.

In 1963, China set up a nature reserve for pandas, the Wolong National Nature Reserve.[29] This was the first, other nature reserves followed. China did this to fight the number of pandas going down. In 2006, there were 40 panda reserves, compared to 13, two decades ago.[4]

Related websites

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Look up Ailuropoda melanoleuca in Wikispecies, a directory of species


  1. Scheff, Duncan (2002). Giant Pandas. Animals of the rain forest (illustrated ed.). Heinemann-Raintree Library. p. 7. ISBN 0739855298. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Earth's Changing Environment. Learn & Explore. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 2010. p. 49. ISBN 1615353399. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Number of pandas successfully bred in China down from last year". Xinhua. 2007-11-08. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Hope for future of giant panda". BBC News. 20 June 2006. Retrieved 2007-2-14. 
  5. "Panda Number Increases As Habitat Environment Improves". People's Daily. 2001-08-06. Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Giant Panda". Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  7. Wildt, David E. (2006). David E. Wildt. ed. Giant pandas: biology, veterinary medicine and management. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0521832950. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Red Panda". Wellington Zoo. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  9. "Evidence of a false thumb in a fossil carnivore clarifies the evolution of pandas" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-05-03. , by Manuel J. Salesa and others states: Indarctos (..) [is] considered the closest relative of the giant panda. (Indarctos is the Spectacled Bear)
  10. "Whence the Red Panda?" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-05-03.  places the red panda in a group with raccoons, weasels and skunks, not with bears.
  11. "Behind the News - Panda Granny". ABC. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  12. Hammond, Paula (2010). The Atlas of Endangered Animals: Wildlife Under Threat Around the World. Marshall Cavendish. p. 58. ISBN 0761478728. 
  13. "Giant Panda Fact Sheet". Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  14. "Giant Panda, symbol of China, shed happiness at the world's zoos". People's daily onlnine, English version. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  15. "Panda message make foreigners more aware of China". Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  16. "The Giant Panda". Katherine Kennedy. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  17. "The Panda Lady: Ruth Harkness (Part 1)". Female explorers. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  18. "China's Panda Diplomacy". Time.,8599,1736273,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 "On this page you can find information about the giant pandas who live outside of China.". GiantPandaZoo. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  20. "Zoologischer Garten Berlin". GiantPandaZoo. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  21. Oleksyn, Veronika (2007-08-23). "Panda gives surprise birth in Austria". AP via Yahoo! News.;_ylt=AlL3xT8wyJr1.OzERBuxLYR0bBAF. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  22. "Pandas sent off to Spain". Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  23. Casey, Michael (May 27, 2009). "Thai zoo surprised by panda cub birth". Associated Press. 
  24. Casey, Michael (May 28, 2009). "China experts say Thailand's panda cub healthy". Associated Press. 
  25. "Kobe Oji Zoo". GiantPandaZoo. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  26. "Rudd gives panda pledge". ABC. 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 "Giant Pandas". Atlanta Zoo. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  28. "Bamboo: Remarkable Giant Grasses". Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  29. "Wolong National Nature Reserve". Wolong National Nature Reserve. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 

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