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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 36.8 years (captivity) Observations: Because that can be a delay in implantation of 45-120 days, pregnancy can last to 97-163 days (Ronald Nowak 1999). One wild born specimen was about 36.8 years of age when it died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

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Females in this species increase their scent markings as well as become more vocal when sexually receptive. A study between sexually active and sexually inactive pandas suggested that scent markings relate to sexual activity and captive inhabitance could be the cause for the poor reproductive ability. Males may also compete for access to a female (Liu et al., 1998; Ward and Kynaston, 1995).

Mating occurs from March to May. The female is in estrous for roughly 1-3 days. There is usually a delay of implantation which can last 1.5 months to 4 months. This may be due to climatic conditions so that the young is born at a fairly stable time. Females are less active as estrous begins, however they become restless, lose their appetite, and their vulva swells. Most of the young are born in August and September. Actual embryonic development lasts about 1.5 months. At birth, giant pandas, like all other bears are blind and helpless; but unlike most bears at birth, giant panda cubs are covered with a thin layer of fur. Newborn cubs weigh 85 to 140 grams. Immediately after birth the mother helps place the infant bear into a position to suckle. Suckling takes place up to 14 times a day and lasts for periods of up to 30 minutes. Infant pandas open their eyes at 3 weeks and cannot move around on their own until 3-4 months and are weaned at about 46 weeks. A cub may remain with its mother up to 18 months (Massicot, 2001; Helin et al., 1999; Ward and Kynaston, 1995). Breeding these bears in captivity has been an incredible challenge. Giant pandas are notorious for their reluctance to breed in captivity (Helin et al., 1999; Milius, 2001; Ward and Kynaston, 1995).

Breeding interval: Female giant pandas may breed every 2 years or less frequently.

Breeding season: Breeding is from March to May.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 3.

Average number of offspring: 1.7.

Range gestation period: 112 to 163 days.

Average weaning age: 46 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5.5 to 6 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5.5 to 6 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; delayed implantation

Average birth mass: 110 g.

Average number of offspring: 1.5.

It has been found from studying giant pandas in captivity that they have twins more often than previously thought--roughly half the time. The mother usually selects one and the other dies shortly after (Milius, 2001).

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Untitled

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There is an ancient Chinese story about how giant pandas got their unique markings. A young girl who was a friend of these bears died and the pandas were struck with sorrow. They wept at the funeral and rubbed their eyes with their arms. The dark color from their arm bands was wiped onto their eyes. The bears then hugged themselves and marked their ears, shoulders, hind legs and rumps, resulting in the pattern seen today. The classification of A. melanoleuca has been a difficult one for researchers to agree upon. Giant pandas have several characteristics in common, like bamboo eating, with red pandas, who have sometimes been considered to be members of the raccoon family (but currently are also classified with bears). Today it is widely accepted with little doubt that that giant pandas belong to the bear family (Ward and Kynaston, 1995).

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Behavior

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Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Conservation Status

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Threats to this species include poaching, habitat loss, human encroachment, and trouble breeding in captivity. Tourism around giant pandas' habitat means more hotels, waste disposal systems, cars, buses, etc. and less room for pandas. Remaining bamboo forests in China only support about 1,000 wild pandas. Thirteen panda reserves totaling an area of 6,227 square km make up half of the remaining habitat. Also, the habitat has been broken into about 20 different separate patches. The pandas have trouble migrating from one site to another. Although efforts are showing improvement compared to earlier years, the zoo population of about 100 pandas worldwide has yet to produce enough cubs to maintain itself. The first successful panda breeding came in 1980 at the Mexico City Zoo, however the infant died after 8 days. In August 1999 another cub was born at San Diego Zoo and seems to be flourishing. To protect the population in the wild, the Chinese government has many anti-poaching laws. Some violators of these laws have even been sentenced to death. In October 1989 the first executions for trading panda skins took place. China has also stopped commercial logging. In 1986 an education campaign took place among 5,000 villages. It attempted to teach farmers and villagers about panda protection and discourage them from cutting bamboo. In 1992 the Chinese government approved the National Conservation Program for the Giant Panda and its Habitat. Since the 1980s many programs have been put in place attempting to save these great animals. Success to breed them in captivity is looking more hopeful but in the wild the numbers are still low. Recent Chinese studies have shown that panda populations have actually been stable for 20 years, but all this effort still may not be enough to save this species (Ward and Kynaston, 1995; World Wildlife Fund, 2001; Massicot, 2001)

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Benefits

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There are no real negative economic impacts of giant pandas on humans, primarily because of their rarity. Panda preserves occupy land that might be considered valuable for harvesting, but the presence of pandas and their economic impact through tourism and preservation of ecosystems is likely to more than make up for any negative impact of reduced development.

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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Benefits

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Giant pandas have been hunted for their fur. In recent years the pelt has been considered a valuable sleeping mat; it is comfortable but also believed to have supernatural markings which prevent ghosts and help predict the future through dreams. A panda skin is highly valued--in Japan it carries a price tag equal to $176,000. Giant pandas are also popular zoo exhibits attracting many people.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism ; research and education

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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Associations

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Giant panda population is closely tied to bamboo abundance and vice versa. Pandas help to distribute the bamboo seeds over areas. However, as panda numbers dwindle so does bamboo, making it harder for them to find food. Panda protected areas help to protect native ecosystems.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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Trophic Strategy

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Giant pandas have an extremely strict energy budget. They travel little and are usually foraging when they do move. Giant pandas can spend 10-12 hours a day feeding. Bamboo, the main source of pandas' diet (over 99%) is a very poor nutritional source but present all year round. Only about 17% of the nutrients found in the leaves and stalks are extracted. These bears make a trade-off to have a plentiful, easily obtained food source but with low nutritional value. Giant pandas are well-known for their upright feeding position which leaves their forelegs free to handle the bamboo stalks. This species has several special characteristics related to eating bamboo. The extra digit on the panda's hand helps the panda in tearing the bamboo. This adaptation also allows increased dexterity while handling bamboo. The stomach walls are extremely muscular to help digest the woody diet; and the gut is covered with a thick layer of mucus to protect against splinters (Ward and Kynaston, 1995; Malius, 2001; Massicot, 2001).

Foods eaten include: bamboo stems and shoots, fruits of plant matter like kiwi, small mammals, fish and insects.

Animal Foods: mammals; fish; insects

Plant Foods: leaves; fruit

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Distribution

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Ailuropoda melanoleuca, already considered rare in ancient China, is now limited to the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shanxi in the central part of the country. The total range covers 29,500 sq. km, but only 5900 sq. km is panda habitat (Ward and Kynaston, 1995; Massicot, 2001).

Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Habitat

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Giant pandas inhabit montane forests and mixed coniferous and broadleaf forests where bamboo stands are present (Helin et al., 1999; Massicot, 2001).

Range elevation: 1200 to 3900 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Life Expectancy

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One giant panda lived to an age of about 34 years in captivity but that is uncommon. Normal max life expectancy in captivity is 26 years, surprisingly it is sometimes as much as 30 years. Lifespan in the wild is not known (Massicot, 2001; Helin et al., 1999; Word Wildlife Fund, 2001).

Range lifespan
Status: captivity:
34 (high) years.

Typical lifespan
Status: wild:
10 to 15 years.

Typical lifespan
Status: captivity:
30 (high) years.

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Cynthia Sims Parr, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Morphology

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In general, A. melanoleuca has a round head, stocky body, and short tail. The shoulder height is 65-70 cm. It is well-known for its distinctive black and white markings. The limbs, eyes, ears, and shoulders are all black and the rest of the body is white. In some areas the black actually has a chesnut-red tinge. The dark markings around the eyes may be the reason for these animals' popularity giving them a wide-eyed, juvenile appearance. An enlarged shoulder and neck region along with a smaller back end gives giant pandas an ambling gait. A baculum (bony rod in soft tissue of penis) is present as in many other mammals. However, in other bears it is straight and forwardly directed, while in giant pandas it is "S" shaped and backwardly directed. Giant pandas also have several adaptations to the skull. They have a large sagittal crest that has become wider and deeper resulting in powerful jaws. The molars and premolars are wider and flatter than other bears' and they have developed extensive ridges and cusps in order to grind tough bamboo. A notable feature on these animals is an extra, opposable digit on the hand known as "the panda's thumb." It has caused confusion in the past as to these bears' classification. This digit is not actually a thumb but a pad of skin overlying a radial sesamoid structure (wrist bone) (Ward and Kynaston, 1995; Helin et al., 1999).

Range mass: 80 to 125 kg.

Range length: 1.5 to 1.8 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Cynthia Sims Parr, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Associations

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The black and white markings on giant pandas may have served as an anti-predator device in the past when the animals had predation pressure. The black and white pattern might have broken up the outline the bears presented, similar to the effect of zebra stripes. Also, in the past, when these pandas inhabited snowier areas, the white may have helped these bears blend into the surroundings. However, today giant pandas live in almost snow free areas. Fortunately no more natural predators exist for pandas today (Ward and Kynaston, 1995).

Known Predators:

  • humans (Homo sapiens)
  • No natural enemies today but possibly in the past animals such as tigers
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Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ailuropoda_melanoleuca.html
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LeeAnn Bies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Cynthia Sims Parr, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Biology

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Adults of this solitary species have well-defined home ranges and rarely meet, except in the mating season that runs from March to May (5). During this time, pandas signal their presence by marking trees and banks with scent secreted from glands located beneath the tail (6). They will also strip bark and occasionally males will dust bathe; dust particles become covered with the pandas' scent and then waft into the air (6). Males also call during this time, and these can be heard echoing through the mountains (7). Females give birth to a single cub that is born in an extremely immature stage of development; weighing only a tiny fraction (0.001%) of their mother's weight (5). The female cares for her cub in a den located in the base of a hollow tree or in a cave for the first few months of its life (4) (8). Young pandas remain dependent on their mother for a year, by which time they are weaned, but usually remain with their mothers until they are two years of age and sometimes longer (4) (8). During this time, females may leave their cubs to forage for days at a time and in the past these supposedly 'abandoned' cubs were taken into captivity (4). Pandas are unusual amongst the larger mammals for the extreme specialisation of their diet, which depends almost entirely on bamboo. Bamboo is a relatively abundant food source but has poor nutritional value; adults must spend around 14 hours a day feeding (4), and need to consume between 10 and 20 kg over 24 hours (8). They therefore alternate periods of feeding and resting throughout the day and night (7). Bamboo is evergreen and in winter pandas concentrate on leaves and stems, descending to lower altitudes in search of new shoots in spring (6). Despite their specialisation on bamboo, pandas will readily scavenge on meat should they come across it (7).
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Conservation

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The giant panda is protected by China's Wildlife Protection Law and offenders convicted of poaching or smuggling skins can face life imprisonment (4). This species is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which effectively bans international trade (1). 60% of the giant panda's range lies within protected reserves (4), and this habitat protection is vital for the survival of the species in the wild. With more than 160 pandas currently in zoos around the world, captive breeding programmes are also of critical importance, both as insurance against the species going extinct in the wild, and to create a source for reintroduction into the wild when that becomes feasible (8). Although the captive population is still not yet self-sustaining (4), the success of captive breeding has markedly increased in recent years, thanks to significant advances in managing the health of captive pandas and a greater understanding of the species' reproductive biology (8). With Chinese colleagues, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and other North American zoos that exhibit giant pandas are conducting important work both in zoos and in the field to address the conservation needs of the giant panda. An important component of this is helping to improve conservation in China. National Zoo scientists are training Chinese professionals in conservation technologies, such as monitoring and the use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems), artificial insemination, genome resource banking, endocrine monitoring to assess health and reproduction, and genetic management of China's captive population. They are also mapping panda habitat and conducting mammal surveys in panda reserves, and have made major strides in understanding the reproductive biology of pandas. Their perfecting of artificial insemination techniques coupled with monitoring hormonal changes to predict peak fertility contributed to the increased breeding success of captive pandas noted above. These also resulted in the first giant panda born at the National Zoo in 2005 (8). Despite remaining in grave danger of extinction, the world's rarest bear is one of the universally recognised symbols of conservation. The panda has been a symbol of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) since the 1960s, an organisation that has also been working closely with the Chinese people over the decades to discover valuable information about this little-known bear, and to help conserve such a well-loved Chinese species for future generations (4).
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Description

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The giant panda is universally admired for its appealing markings and seemingly gentle demeanour. This large mammal is now recognised as being a member of the bear family and is a robust animal with heavy shoulders and a distinctive black and white coat (4). The molars and premolar teeth are wider and flatter than those of other bears, and the jaw muscles are large, allowing the panda to grind bamboo (2). The giant panda is well known for its 'thumb', which is actually a modified wrist bone that enables the panda to dextrously grasp bamboo stalks (2).
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Habitat

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Formerly these pandas were found in hilly ravines at lower elevations, but populations have been forced into the mountains and they can now be found in temperate montane forest at 1,200 to 3,400 metres, where there is an abundance of bamboo (4).
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Range

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The historic range of the panda encompassed much of eastern and southern China, reaching into northern Vietnam and Myanmar (4). Today, the range is restricted to 6 separate mountain ranges in western China, on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, in the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan (4).
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Status

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Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
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Threats

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Habitat loss is the greatest cause of the decline of the giant panda. Large areas of China's natural forest have been cleared for agriculture, timber and firewood to meet the needs of the large and growing human population (4). Bamboo undergoes periodic dieback every 40 - 60 years and swathes of a species will disappear. Previously, pandas would migrate to find alternative bamboo sources; today however, only fragments of forest remain and this is no longer possible, causing populations to be even more vulnerable (7). Despite strong protection measures, pandas are still occassionally killed for their pelts and are accidentally captured in traps.
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Description of Ailuropoda melanoleuca

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Ailuropoda melanoleuca is the giant panda, a kind of bear that is native to central-western and south western China. 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. Though it is classified among the Carnivora, its diet is mostly bamboo. Occasionally they eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents or carrion. It 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 panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived. The panda is an endangered species, and needs active conservation measures. In 2007, an estimated 239 pandas lived in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country. Wild populations probably number between 1500 and 3,000. Adults measure around 1.2 to 1.8 meters (4 to 6 ft) long, including a tail of about 13 cm (5.1 in), and are 60 to 90 centimeters (1 ft 10 in to 2 ft 10 in) tall at the shoulder. Males weigh up to 160 kilograms (350 lb). Females are 10–20% smaller than males. The average adult weight is 100 to 115 kilograms (220 to 250 lb). The giant panda has large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo. In addition to 5 fingers, the paw has a thumb modified from the sesamoid bone. the thumb helps the giant panda to hold bamboo while eating. The giant panda typically lives around 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
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Bamboo-eating Bears

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When we think of giant pandas, we think of lovely black and white bamboo-eating bears. They are cute and have many fans all over the world. But do youreallyknow about pandas?

High in dense bamboo forests in the misty, rainy mountains of southwestern China lives one of the world's rarest mammals: the giant panda, also called the panda. Only about 1,000 of these black-and-white relatives of bears survive in the wild.


Pandas eat almost nothing but bamboo shoots and leaves. Occasionally they eat other vegetation, fish, or small animals, but bamboo accounts for 99 percent of their diets. Pandas eat fast, they eat a lot, and they spend about 12 hours a day doing it. The reason: They digest only about a fifth of what they eat. Overall, bamboo is not very nutritious. To stay healthy, they have to eat a lot—up to 15 percent of their body weight in 12 hours—so they eat fast.

Pandas' molars are very broad and flat. The shape of these teeth helps the animals crush the bamboo shoots, leaves, and stems they eat. To get the bamboo to their mouths, they hold the stems with their front paws, which have enlarged wrist bones that act as thumbs for gripping. A panda should have at least two bamboo species where it lives, or it will starve.

Pandas are shy; they don't venture into areas where people live. This restricts pandas to very limited areas.

Bamboo contains very little nutritional value sopandas must eat 12-38kg every day to meet their energy needs.


But they do branch out, with about 1% of their diet comprising other plants and even meat. While they are almost entirely vegetarian, pandas will sometimes hunt for pikas and other small rodents.

Indeed, as members of the bear family, giant pandas possess the digestive system of a carnivore, although they have evolved to depend almost entirely on bamboo.

This reliance on bamboo leaves them vulnerable to anyloss of their habitat– currently the major threat to their survival.

References

  • National Geographic Kids, http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/giant-panda/#giant-panda-eating.jpg
  • WWF Global, http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/giant_panda/panda/what_do_pandas_they_eat/

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Habitat

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Pandas live in coniferous or broadleaf forests with a lot of bamboo. The elevation of the forests they live in are between 5,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.

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Olfactory communication

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Giant pandas scent-mark with urine and secretions from the anogenital region, using a variety of postures. Squatting and rubbing the perineum on a surface is common to both sexes. On a vertical surface, a leg lift may be used to permit anogenital contact and rubbing. The male often urinates and/or rubs the perineum in the leg-lift posture while the female generally only rubs the anogenital region. The female occasionally urinates in a 'handstand' position where both hind limbs are raised off the substrate; as a juvenile he would urinate and rub the anogenital region in a handstand. Both sexes sniffmarking sites extensively, and there is a noticeable build-up of secretions and discolouration at preferred locales.
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Giant panda

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The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca; Chinese: 大熊猫; pinyin: dàxióngmāo),[5] also known as the panda bear or simply the panda, is a bear[6] native to south central China.[1] It is characterised by large, black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. The name "giant panda" is sometimes used to distinguish it from the red panda, a neighboring musteloid. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda is a folivore, with bamboo shoots and leaves making up more than 99% of its diet.[7] Giant pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents, or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.[8][9]

The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan, but also in neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu.[10] As a result of farming, deforestation, and other development, the giant panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived, and it is a conservation-reliant vulnerable species.[11][12] A 2007 report showed 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country.[13] As of December 2014, 49 giant pandas lived in captivity outside China, living in 18 zoos in 13 different countries.[14] Wild population estimates vary; one estimate shows that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild,[13] while a 2006 study via DNA analysis estimated that this figure could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000.[15] Some reports also show that the number of giant pandas in the wild is on the rise.[16] In March 2015, conservation news site Mongabay stated that the wild giant panda population had increased by 268, or 16.8%, to 1,864.[17] In 2016, the IUCN reclassified the species from "endangered" to "vulnerable".[12]

While the dragon has often served as China's national symbol, internationally the giant panda has often filled this role. As such, it is becoming widely used within China in international contexts, for example, appearing since 1982 on gold panda bullion coins and as one of the five Fuwa mascots of the Beijing Olympics.

Taxonomy

Classification

For many decades, the precise taxonomic classification of the giant panda was under debate because it shares characteristics with both bears and raccoons.[18] However, molecular studies indicate the giant panda is a true bear, part of the family Ursidae.[6][19] These studies show it differentiated early (about 19 million years ago)[20] from the main ursine stock; since it is the most basal member of the group, it is equidistant from all other extant ursids.[21][20] The giant panda has been referred to as a living fossil.[22]

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.

Etymology

The word panda was borrowed into English from French, but no conclusive explanation of the origin of the French word panda has been found.[23] The closest candidate is the Nepali word ponya, possibly referring to the adapted wrist bone of the red panda, which is native to Nepal. The Western world originally applied this name to the red panda.

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Panda cubs

In many older sources, the name "panda" or "common panda" refers to the lesser-known red panda,[24] thus necessitating the inclusion of "giant" and "lesser/red" prefixes in front of the names. Even in 2013, the Encyclopædia Britannica still used "giant panda" or "panda bear" for the bear,[25] and simply "panda" for the red panda,[26] despite the popular usage of the word "panda" to refer to giant pandas.

Since the earliest collection of Chinese writings, the Chinese language has given the bear 20 different names, such as huāxióng (花熊 "spotted bear") and zhúxióng (竹熊 "bamboo bear").[27] The most popular names in China today is dàxióngmāo (大熊貓 literally "giant bear cat"), or simply xióngmāo (熊貓 "bear cat"). The name xióngmāo (熊貓 "bear cat") was originally used to describe the red panda (Ailurus fulgens), but since the giant panda was thought to be closely related to the red panda, dàxióngmāo (大熊貓) was named relatively.[27]

In Taiwan, another popular name for panda is the inverted dàmāoxióng (大貓熊 "giant cat bear"), though many encyclopediae and dictionaries in Taiwan still use the "bear cat" form as the correct name. Some linguists argue, 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.[27] This name did not gain its popularity until 1988, when a private zoo in Tainan painted a sun bear black and white and created the Tainan fake panda incident.[28][29]

Subspecies

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The Qinling panda has a light brown and white pattern

Two subspecies of giant panda have been recognized on the basis of distinct cranial measurements, colour patterns, and population genetics.[30]

  • The nominate subspecies, A. m. melanoleuca, consists of most extant populations of the giant panda. These animals are principally found in Sichuan and display the typical stark black and white contrasting colours.
  • The Qinling panda, A. m. qinlingensis,[31] is restricted to the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi at elevations of 1,300–3,000 m. The typical black and white pattern of Sichuan giant pandas is replaced with a light brown and white pattern.[30] The skull of A. m. qinlingensis is smaller than its relatives, and it has larger molars.

A detailed study of the giant panda's genetic history from 2012[32] confirms that the separation of the Qinlin population occurred about 300,000 years ago, and reveals that the non-Qinlin population further diverged into two groups, named the Minshan and the Qionglai-Daxiangling-Xiaoxiangling-Liangshan group respectively, about 2,800 years ago.[33]

Description

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The skull of a giant panda at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
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The skeleton (left) and taxidermy model (right) of "Tong Tong", once bred in Ueno Zoo at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo

The giant panda has luxuriant black-and-white fur. Adults measure around 1.2 to 1.9 m (4 to 6 ft) long, including a tail of about 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in), and 60 to 90 cm (2.0 to 3.0 ft) tall at the shoulder.[34][35] Males can weigh up to 160 kg (350 lb).[36] Females (generally 10–20% smaller than males)[37] can weigh as little as 70 kg (150 lb), but can also weigh up to 125 kg (276 lb).[11][34][38] Average adult weight is 100 to 115 kg (220 to 254 lb).[39]

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, speculation suggests that the bold colouring provides effective camouflage in their shade-dappled snowy and rocky habitat.[40] The giant panda's thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat.[40] The panda's skull shape is typical of durophagous carnivorans. It has evolved from previous ancestors to exhibit larger molars with increased complexity and expanded temporal fossa.[41][42] A 110.45 kg (243.5 lb) giant panda has a 3D canine teeth bite force of 2603.47 newtons and bite force quotient of 292. Another study had a 117.5 kg (259 lb) giant panda bite of 1298.9 newtons (BFQ 151.4) at canine teeth and 1815.9 newtons (BFQ 141.8) at carnassial teeth.[43]

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Bones of the left forelimb

The giant panda's paw has a "thumb" and five fingers; the "thumb" – actually a modified sesamoid bone – helps it to hold bamboo while eating.[44] Stephen Jay Gould discusses this feature in his book of essays on evolution and biology, The Panda's Thumb.

The giant panda's tail, measuring 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in), is the second-longest in the bear family (the longest belongs to the sloth bear).[37]

The giant panda typically lives around 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.[45] A female named Jia Jia was the oldest giant panda ever in captivity, born in 1978 and died at an age of 38 on 16 October 2016.[46]

Pathology

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Toxoplasma gondii (arrow) in macrophages in the lung of a giant panda[47]

A seven-year-old female named Jin Yi died in 2014 in a zoo in Zhengzhou, China, after showing symptoms of gastroenteritis and respiratory disease. It was found that the cause of death was toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii and infecting most warm-blooded animals, including humans.[47]

Genomics

The giant panda genome was sequenced in 2009 using Illumina dye sequencing.[48] Its genome contains 20 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes.

Ecology

Diet

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Pandas eating bamboo.
Panda eating, standing, playing

Despite its taxonomic classification as a carnivoran, the giant panda's diet is primarily herbivorous, consisting almost exclusively of bamboo.[45] However, the giant panda still has the digestive system of a carnivore, as well as carnivore-specific genes,[49] and thus derives little energy and little protein from consumption of bamboo. Its ability to digest cellulose is ascribed to the microbes in its gut.[50][51] Pandas are born with sterile intestines and require bacteria obtained from their mother's feces to digest vegetation.[52] The giant panda is a highly specialised animal with unique adaptations, and has lived in bamboo forests for millions of years.[53]

The average giant panda eats as much as 9 to 14 kg (20 to 30 lb) of bamboo shoots a day to compensate for the limited energy content of its diet. Ingestion of such a large quantity of material is possible and necessary because of the rapid passage of large amounts of indigestible plant material through the short, straight digestive tract.[54][55] It is also noted, however, that such rapid passage of digesta limits the potential of microbial digestion in the gastrointestinal tract,[54] limiting alternative forms of digestion. Given this voluminous diet, the giant panda defecates up to 40 times a day.[56] 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 to limit its energy expenditures.[57]

Two of the panda's most distinctive features, its large size and round face, are adaptations to its bamboo diet. Anthropologist Russell Ciochon observed: "[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 allows the giant panda to subsist on nutrient poor resources such as bamboo."[57] 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.[57] Large molars crush and grind fibrous plant material.

The morphological characteristics of extinct relatives of the giant panda suggest that while the ancient giant panda was omnivorous 7 million years ago (mya), it only became herbivorous some 2–2.4 mya with the emergence of A. microta.[58][59] Genome sequencing of the giant panda suggests that the dietary switch could have initiated from the loss of the sole T1R1/T1R3 umami taste receptor, resulting from two frameshift mutations within the T1R1 exons.[60] Umami taste corresponds to high levels of glutamate as found in meat and may have thus altered the food choice of the giant panda.[61] Although the pseudogenisation of the umami taste receptor in Ailuropoda coincides with the dietary switch to herbivory, it is likely a result of, and not the reason for, the dietary change.[59][60][61] The mutation time for the T1R1 gene in the giant panda is estimated to 4.2 mya[59] while fossil evidence indicates bamboo consumption in the giant panda species at least 7 mya,[58] signifying that although complete herbivory occurred around 2 mya, the dietary switch was initiated prior to T1R1 loss-of-function.

Pandas eat any of 25 bamboo species in the wild, such as Fargesia dracocephala[62] and Fargesia rufa.[63] Only a few bamboo species are widespread at the high altitudes pandas now inhabit. Bamboo leaves contain the highest protein levels; stems have less.[64]

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.[65]

Pandas will travel between different habitats if they need to, so they can get the nutrients that they need and to balance their diet for reproduction. For six years, scientists studied six pandas tagged with GPS collars at the Foping Reserve in the Qinling Mountains. They took note of their foraging and mating habits and analyzed samples of their food and feces. The pandas would move from the valleys into the Qinling Mountains and would only return to the valleys in autumn. During the summer months bamboo shoots rich in protein are only available at higher altitudes which causes low calcium rates in the pandas and during breeding season the pandas would trek back down to eat bamboo leaves rich in calcium.[66]

Predators

Although adult giant pandas have few natural predators other than humans, young cubs are vulnerable to attacks by snow leopards, yellow-throated martens,[67] eagles, feral dogs, and the Asian black bear. Sub-adults weighing up to 50 kg (110 lb) may be vulnerable to predation by leopards.[68]

Behavior

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 province of Sichuan.[69] Giant pandas are generally solitary.[53] Each adult has a defined territory and a female is not tolerant of other females in her range. Social encounters occur primarily during the brief breeding season in which pandas in proximity to one another will gather.[70] After mating, the male leaves the female alone to raise the cub.[71]

Pandas were thought to fall into the crepuscular category, those who are active twice a day, at dawn and dusk; however, Jindong Zhang found that pandas may belong to a category all of their own, with activity peaks in the morning, afternoon and midnight. Due to their sheer size, they can be active at any time of the day.[72] Activity is highest in June and decreases in late summer to fall with an increase from November through the following March.[73] Activity is also directly related to the amount of sunlight during colder days.[73]

Pandas communicate through vocalisation and scent marking such as clawing trees or spraying urine.[11] They are able to climb and take shelter in hollow trees or rock crevices, but do 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.[74] Pandas rely primarily on spatial memory rather than visual memory.[75]

Though the panda is often assumed to be docile, it has been known to attack humans, presumably out of irritation rather than aggression.[76][77][78]

Reproduction

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A giant panda cub. At birth, the giant panda typically weighs 100 to 200 grams (​3 12 to 7 oz) and measures 15 to 17 centimeters (6 to 7 in) long.[79]

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.[80] This led some scientists to try extreme methods, such as showing them videos of giant pandas mating[81] and giving the males sildenafil (commonly known by name Viagra).[82] Only recently have researchers started having success with captive breeding programs, and they have now determined giant pandas have comparable breeding to some populations of the American black bear, a thriving bear species. The normal reproductive rate is considered to be one young every two years.[16][69]

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Panda Research and Breeding Center in Chengdu.

Giant pandas reach sexual maturity between the ages of four and eight, and may be reproductive until age 20.[83] The mating season is between March and May, when a female goes into estrus, which lasts for two or three days and only occurs once a year.[84] When mating, the female is in a crouching, head-down position as the male mounts her from behind. Copulation time is short, ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes, but the male may mount her repeatedly to ensure successful fertilisation. The gestation period ranges from 95 to 160 days.[84]

Giant pandas give birth to twins in about half of pregnancies.[85] If twins are born, usually only one survives in the wild. The mother will select the stronger of the cubs, and the weaker cub will die due to starvation. The mother is thought to be unable to produce enough milk for two cubs since she does not store fat.[86] The father has no part in helping raise the cub.

When the cub is first born, it is pink, blind, and toothless,[87] weighing only 90 to 130 grams (3.2 to 4.6 ounces), or about 1/800th of the mother's weight,[18] proportionally the smallest baby of any placental mammal.[88] It nurses from its mother's breast six 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 grey where its hair will eventually become black. Slight pink colour 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 colour pattern of the cub's fur is fully developed. Its fur is very soft and coarsens with age. The cub begins to crawl at 75 to 80 days;[18] mothers play with their cubs by rolling and wrestling with them. The cubs can eat small quantities of bamboo after six months,[89] though mother's milk remains the primary food source for most of the first year. Giant panda cubs weigh 45 kg (100 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.[90] The cub was born at 07:41 on 23 July that year in Sichuan as the third cub of You You, an 11-year-old.[90][91][92] 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 dwindling availability of giant panda semen, which had led to inbreeding.[92][93] Panda semen, which can be frozen for decades, could be shared between different zoos to save the species.[90][91] 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.[93] In August 2014, a rare birth of panda triplets was announced in China; it was the fourth of such births ever reported.[94]

Attempts have also been made to reproduce giant pandas by interspecific pregnancy by implanting cloned panda embryos into the uterus of an animal of another species. This has resulted in panda fetuses, but no live births.[95]

Uses and human interaction

Early references

In the past, pandas were thought to be rare and noble creatures – the Empress Dowager Bo 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.[96]

The creature named mo (貘) mentioned in some ancient books has been interpreted as giant panda.[96] The dictionary Shuowen Jiezi (Eastern Han Dynasty) says that the mo, from Shu (Sichuan), is bear-like, but yellow-and-black,[97] although the older Erya describes mo simply as a "white leopard".[98] The interpretation of the legendary fierce creature pixiu (貔貅) as referring to the giant panda is also common.[99]

During the reign of the Yongle Emperor (early 15th century), his relative from Kaifeng sent him a captured zouyu (騶虞), and another zouyu was sighted in Shandong. Zouyu is a legendary "righteous" animal, which, similarly to a qilin, only appears during the rule of a benevolent and sincere monarch. It is said to be fierce as a tiger, but gentle and strictly vegetarian, and described in some books as a white tiger with black spots. Puzzled about the real zoological identity of the creature captured during the Yongle era, J.J.L. Duyvendak exclaims, "Can it possibly have been a Pandah?"[100]

The comparative obscurity of the giant panda throughout most of China's history is illustrated by the fact that, despite there being a number of depictions of bears in Chinese art starting from its most ancient times, and the bamboo being one of the favorite subjects for Chinese painters, there are no known pre-20th-century artistic representations of giant pandas.

Western discovery

The West first learned of the giant panda on 11 March 1869, when the French missionary Armand David[18] received a skin from a hunter. 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 Westerners 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[101] which went to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. In 1938, five giant pandas were sent to London.[102][103]

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Adult male giant panda

Panda diplomacy

Gifts of giant pandas to American and Japanese zoos formed an important part of the diplomacy of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1970s, as it marked some of the first cultural exchanges between China and the West. This practice has been termed "panda diplomacy".[104]

By 1984, however, pandas were no longer given as gifts. Instead, China began to offer pandas to other nations only on 10-year loans, under terms including 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 China. Since 1998, because of a WWF lawsuit, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service only allows a US 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.[105] A contest in 2006 to name the pandas was held in the mainland, resulting in the politically charged names Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan (from tuanyuan, meaning "reunion", i.e. "reunification"). China's offer was initially rejected by Chen Shui-bian, then President of Taiwan. However, when Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency in 2008, the offer was accepted, and the pandas arrived in December of that year.[106]

Biofuel

Microbes in panda waste are being investigated for their use in creating biofuels from bamboo and other plant materials.[107]

Conservation

The giant panda is a vulnerable species, threatened by continued habitat loss and habitat fragmentation,[108] and by a very low birthrate, both in the wild and in captivity.[45] Its range is currently confined to a small portion on the western edge of its historical range, which stretched through southern and eastern China, northern Myanmar, and northern Vietnam.[1]

The giant panda has been a target of 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.

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Closeup of a seven-month-old panda cub

In 1963, the PRC government set up Wolong National Nature Reserve to save the declining panda population.[109] However, few advances in the conservation of pandas were made at the time, owing to inexperience and insufficient knowledge of ecology. Many believed 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 caused by 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 their chances of survival. With these renewed efforts and improved conservation methods, wild pandas have started to increase in numbers in some areas, 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 the wild population may be as large as 3,000.[45] In 2006, there were 40 panda reserves in China, compared to just 13 reserves in 1998.[15] As the species has been reclassified to "vulnerable" since 2016, the conservation efforts are thought to be working. Furthermore, in response to this reclassification, the State Forestry Administration of China announced that they would not accordingly lower the conservation level for panda, and would instead reinforce the conservation efforts.[110]

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 province of Sichuan and covering seven natural reserves, were inscribed onto the World Heritage List in 2006.[111][112][113]

Not all conservationists agree that the money spent on conserving pandas is well spent. Chris Packham has argued that the breeding of pandas in captivity is "pointless" because "there is not enough habitat left to sustain them".[114] Packham argues that the money spent on pandas would be better spent elsewhere,[114] and has said 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",[115] though he has apologised for upsetting people who like pandas.[116] He said, "The panda is possibly one of the grossest wastes of conservation money in the last half century."[115] However, a 2015 paper found that the giant panda can serve as an umbrella species as the preservation of their habitat also helps other endemic species in China, including 70% of the country's forest birds, 70% of mammals and 31% of amphibians.[117]

In 2012, Earthwatch Institute, a global nonprofit that teams volunteers with scientists to conduct important environmental research, launched a program called "On the Trail of Giant Panda". This program, based in the Wolong National Nature Reserve, allows volunteers to work up close with pandas cared for in captivity, and help them adapt to life in the wild, so that they may breed, and live longer and healthier lives.[118]

In zoos

Pandas have been kept in zoos as early as the Western Han Dynasty in China, where the writer Sima Xiangru noted that the panda was the most treasured animal in the emperor's garden of exotic animals in the capital Chang'an (present Xi'an). Not until the 1950s were pandas again recorded to have been exhibited in China's zoos.[119]

Chi Chi at the London Zoo became very popular. This influenced the World Wildlife Fund to use a panda as its symbol.[120]

A 2006 New York Times article[121] outlined the economics of keeping pandas, which costs five times more than keeping 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.[122] The last contract, with the Memphis Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee, ended in 2013.[121]

Population chart

Reference in medicine

The Face of the Giant Panda Sign is an MRI sign in patients with Wilson's disease, named for the midbrain's resemblance to a giant panda's face.

See also

References

Notes
  1. ^ a b c Swaisgood, R.; Wang, D.; Wei, F. (2016). "Ailuropoda melanoleuca". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T712A45033386.
  2. ^ "Species Profile".
  3. ^ David, Armand (1869). "Voyage en Chine". Bulletin des Nouvelles Archives du Muséum. 5: 13. Ursus melanoleucus
  4. ^ Like the English "giant", the term ("large") is technically prefixed to the name "panda" in Chinese, but is not generally in everyday use.
  5. ^ Scheff, Duncan (2002). Giant Pandas. Animals of the rain forest (illustrated ed.). Heinemann-Raintree Library. p. 7. ISBN 0-7398-5529-8.
  6. ^ a b Lindburg, Donald G.; Baragona, Karen (2004). Giant Pandas: Biology and Conservation. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23867-2.
  7. ^ Quote: "Bamboo forms 99 percent of a panda's diet", "more than 99 percent of their diet is bamboo": p. 63 of Lumpkin & Seidensticker 2007 (as seen in the 2002 edition).
  8. ^ "Giant Panda". Discovery Communications, LLC. Archived from the original on 7 January 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  9. ^ "Giant Pandas". National Zoological Park. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  10. ^ Scheff, Duncan (2002). Giant Pandas. Animals of the rain forest (illustrated ed.). Heinemann-Raintree Library. p. 8. ISBN 0-7398-5529-8.
  11. ^ a b c "Global Species Programme – Giant panda". World Wildlife Fund. 14 November 2007. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  12. ^ a b "Four out of six great apes one step away from extinction – IUCN Red List". 4 September 2016. Archived from the original on 8 September 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Number of pandas successfully bred in China down from last year". Xinhua. 8 November 2007. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  14. ^ "Panda Zoos Around The World". www.GiantPandaZoo.com. Archived from the original on 2 January 2016.
  15. ^ a b Briggs, Helen (20 June 2006). "Hope for future of giant panda". BBC News. Retrieved 14 February 2007.
  16. ^ a b Warren, Lynne (July 2006). "Pandas, Inc". National Geographic. Retrieved 10 April 2008.
  17. ^ "Giant panda population rises by nearly 17 percent". Mongabay Environmental News. 2 March 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d "Giant Panda". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  19. ^ O'Brien, Nash, Wildt, Bush & Benveniste, A molecular solution to the riddle of the giant panda's phylogeny, Nature Page 317, and pages 140 – 144 (12 September 1985)
  20. ^ a b Krause, J.; Unger, T.; Noçon, A.; Malaspinas, A.; Kolokotronis, S.; Stiller, M.; Soibelzon, L.; Spriggs, H.; Dear, P. H.; Briggs, A. W.; Bray, S. C. E.; O'Brien, S. J.; Rabeder, G.; Matheus, P.; Cooper, A.; Slatkin, M.; Pääbo, S.; Hofreiter, M. (2008). "Mitochondrial genomes reveal an explosive radiation of extinct and extant bears near the Miocene-Pliocene boundary". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 8 (220): 220. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-220. PMC 2518930. PMID 18662376.
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Giant panda: Brief Summary

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The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca; Chinese: 大熊猫; pinyin: dàxióngmāo), also known as the panda bear or simply the panda, is a bear native to south central China. It is characterised by large, black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. The name "giant panda" is sometimes used to distinguish it from the red panda, a neighboring musteloid. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda is a folivore, with bamboo shoots and leaves making up more than 99% of its diet. Giant pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents, or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.

The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan, but also in neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu. As a result of farming, deforestation, and other development, the giant panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived, and it is a conservation-reliant vulnerable species. A 2007 report showed 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country. As of December 2014, 49 giant pandas lived in captivity outside China, living in 18 zoos in 13 different countries. Wild population estimates vary; one estimate shows that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild, while a 2006 study via DNA analysis estimated that this figure could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000. Some reports also show that the number of giant pandas in the wild is on the rise. In March 2015, conservation news site Mongabay stated that the wild giant panda population had increased by 268, or 16.8%, to 1,864. In 2016, the IUCN reclassified the species from "endangered" to "vulnerable".

While the dragon has often served as China's national symbol, internationally the giant panda has often filled this role. As such, it is becoming widely used within China in international contexts, for example, appearing since 1982 on gold panda bullion coins and as one of the five Fuwa mascots of the Beijing Olympics.

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