Fun Facts About Giant Pandas

Pandas in captivity at the China Center for Research and Conservation of the Giant Panda in Wolong eat nutritious bars in addition to bamboo.
Credit: Sue Nichols, Michigan State University

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ailuropoda

Species: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Basic panda facts:

The giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family.

This playful animal reaches about 59 inches (150 centimeters) in length from nose to rump, and weighs about 220 to 331 pounds (100 to 150 kilograms).

While quite large as adults, pandas start out small — about the size of a stick of butter. The mother panda cares for her young until they are ready to venture out on their own, and doesn’t leave the den during this period. Cubs begin to crawl at 10 weeks of age, and by 21 weeks these baby bears are able to walk with some confidence. They nurse until about 18 months of age, but will begin to eat bamboo at about 7 to 9 months.

Pandas are known for their distinctive black-and-white coloring; their eyes, ears, legs and shoulders are black, while the rest of their fur is white.

Although the adult panda's diet consists almost exclusively of bamboo, its digestive system is more similar to that of a carnivore than an herbivore. This digestive system is inefficient at breaking down the components of bamboo, which means pandas must consume a lot of bamboo to meet their daily nutritional requirements: And adult giant panda eats about 26 to 84 pounds (12 to 38 kg) of bamboo a day.

Where pandas live:

Pandas live in temperate climates in broadleaf and coniferous forests where there is plenty of bamboo to satisfy their voracious appetites. Today, the giant panda can be found in about 20 areas of mountain forest in the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of China.

Conservation status: Endangered

The giant panda is considered an endangered species by the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Animals. As of 2004, there were 1,600 pandas in the wild, with 300 living in zoos and breeding centers.

The giant panda is protected by China's Wildlife Protection Law, under which those convicted of poaching pandas or smuggling panda skins face life in prison or even death.

Like many large animals, pandas have low reproductive rates, which makes it difficult for the population to recover when pandas die. (Female pandas can realistically only reproduce every other year, and will typically raise only five to eight cubs in a lifetime.)

Pandas face several threats to their survival. Initially, the panda population was threatened by habitat loss due to logging. (Their habitat declined from about 12.6 million acres, or 5.1 million hectares, in the 1950s to 3.2 acres, or 1.3 million hectares, in the 1990s.) Habitat loss began to slow in 1998, partly as a result of government bans on logging in panda ranges.

Despite large protected areas designated for the panda, pandas still face threats, including human population encroaching on their natural habitat and climate change.

Odd facts:

Pandas spend over 12 hours a day eating.

Pandas have a pseudo thumb of sorts. This extra digit is actually not a thumb but a flap of skin covering the animal's wrist bone. These thumbs help the panda grasp bamboo sticks.

A panda cub is one-nine-hundredth the size of its mother, making it the smallest newborn relative to its mother's size, after marsupials such as the kangaroo, which is the size of a jelly bean at birth.

Unlike other bears living in temperate climates, the giant panda does not hibernate.

Following ancient Chinese tradition, panda cubs are not named until they have been alive for 100 days.

Other resources:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

San Diego Zoo

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Conservation International

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Related: Polar Bears

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