- Status: Endangered
- Known as: Giant Panda, Panda.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 1,000 (possibly as many as 3,000).
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Weighing in at 136 kilograms and measuring 1.2 to 1.5 meters long, the giant panda is a black and white bear of China whose unique image is perhaps the most recognizable in today’s animal kingdom. These solitary, territorial bears live in cool, wet bamboo forests at several thousand meters and are currently confined to central China.
The giant panda and the bamboo plant are inseparable – in fact, one of the panda’s wrist bones has elongated to provide a sixth toe on each fore paw, which serves as a thumb while grasping stalks of bamboo.
Due to the low nutritive value of bamboo, a panda spends around twelve hours daily eating, consuming up to 14 kilograms of the vegetation to sate its appetite. Pandas remain omnivorous and eat a few rodents and birds, but these are only occasional supplements to their daily bamboo salad.
Though pandas can climb and swim, they tend to avoid steep slopes because of the high energy demands these impose. Each panda needs at least two bamboo species in its home range so that it does not starve when one species reaches the end of its yearly cycle and dies back.
The panda’s rounded, friendly-looking face is due to huge jaw muscles and enlarged molars needed to grind bamboo into a digestible pulp. A wild panda usually lives for around two decades, though those in captivity can live for up to 30 years.
Though they are actual bears and display some bear-like behaviors, such as clawing the bark of trees to mark territorial boundaries, giant pandas do not hibernate or even establish a permanent den. In cooler months, they move lower down the slopes to areas with warmer temperatures. Hollow trees and rock crevices are both favored as temporary resting spots.
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The giant panda is found only in central China in the wild. This scarce bear lives only in mountainous bamboo forests, where its favorite food is abundant.
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The giant panda is very vulnerable to modern-day threats because of its limited range, exacting dietary needs, and prolonged breeding rate.
Habitat destruction and pollution have caused major damage to the panda population, but poaching was the most serious threat to the species. Early, ham-handed efforts at conservation also contributed to the species’ decline.
Panda pelts are naturally valuable on the black market, giving an incentive for poaching these unique animals. Demand for these panda skins was particularly strong in Japan and Hong Kong.
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Heavy conservation efforts, including wholesale removal of humans from the giant panda’s remaining habitat, appear to be paying off with a slowly increasing population.
There may be as many as 3,000 giant pandas in the wild today, and vigorous international conservation efforts continue. Gun control in the regions where pandas are found has also proven effective at reducing the numbers that fall to poaching and other forms of illegal hunting.
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Bear Trust International
Bear Trust International is an American organization that protects different bear species around the world and their habitats through education, research, management, and habitat conservation.
Hauser Bears is a UK-based charity with a mission to change people’s attitudes towards bears. Their main work revolves around research and education to ensure a future for all bear species.
PDXWidlife collaborates with local organizations on three different continents to conserve endangered species like the Giant Panda and its habitat through research and outreach programs.