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Giant panda

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Giant panda
Panda eating bamboo.jpg
Scientific Classification
Subspecies
  • A. m. melanoleuca
  • A. m. qinlingensis

The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a mammal in the Ursidae (bear) family that has a thick white coat of fur with black fur around its eyes, on their ears, snout, legs and shoulders. Pandas are omnivorous bears but have adapted to eating mainly bamboo.

Contents

Anatomy

The Giant Panda's weight can range anywhere between 130 and 270 pounds. Pandas have a thick white coat of fur with black fur around their eyes, on their ears, snout, legs and shoulders. These bear-like creatures have a head and body length of 3 to 4 feet.

Pandas have large flat molars and enlarged wrist bones that act as opposable thumbs. Both of these adaptations are used for crushing and eating bamboo.[1]

Reproduction

Panda cub laying on the ground

Pandas are falsely believed to reproduce poorly. This idea is based upon the panda's reproductive performance of captive pandas failing to fulfill the animal community's hopes. This fact that captive pandas are poor reproducers is not true for the wild panda population though. Wild pandas are known to have thriving reproductive rates which are comparable to that of the American black bear, which is immensely prosperous.

Both male and female pandas reach sexual maturity at around five-and-a-half to six-and-a-half years old. Males seek out several different females who are in heat. These males compete with each other in a contest-like fashion to see who will mate with her. The normal mating season for pandas is during spring and occurs between March and May. During this period, the male and female pandas usually do not associate for more than two to four days. The process of development of the panda fetus takes about 97 to 163 days. Pandas usually give birth to one cub at a time, though twins have been born more frequently when artificial insemination is used. The rate of reproduction for pandas is about one cub every 2 years.

A newborn panda cub is only 4 inches long and weighs about 3 to 5 ounces. Pandas rely greatly upon their mother for the first few months and are usually completely weaned at 8 to 9 months old. The time that the panda cubs usually leave their mother is when the mother conceives again which is around 18 months. A panda's average life span is 10 to 15 years in the wild and up to 30 in captivity.[2]

Ecology

Pandas spend most of their day eating bamboo

Giant Pandas were once found in southern and eastern China, Myanmar (Burma), and also in Vietnam, but today giant pandas have been restricted within temperate forests that are widely dispersed across six mountain ranges in southwestern China in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi; all of which run along the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. These forests are some of the most biologically rich temperate areas on Earth.[3]

Although the Giant Panda is labeled taxonomically with the Order carnivora, the panda's diet consists mainly of bamboo. Bamboo comprises 99% of the Great Panda's diet. The Great Panda eats mostly the bamboo stems (Wei et al. (1999)), but the precise percentage that the Giant Panda eats annually is 55% stems, 35% leaves, and 10% shoots. [4] Pandas have adapted to a herbivorous diet and so pandas do not have the proper enzymes to easily break down the cellulose in bamboo, which causes the panda to extract very little energy and protein from it. Because of this fact pandas need to eat massive amounts of food each day, as much as 83 pounds for up to 14 hours. Panda's never stop eating except for sleep, limited travel, or emergencies.[5]

Even though they are primarily herbivorous, pandas still retain decidedly ursine teeth. Pandas will eat meat, eggs, fish, and any other animal product whenever the opportunity arises.[6]

Oppressed Pandas

This map shows where the remaining giant pandas live

Pandas have slowly been dying out. Currently, according to the most recent panda census which was released in 2004, there are 14,000 square miles of the panda's natural environment spread across southwestern China, and only 1,600 pandas are living in it.

The two main threats of extinction for pandas are the loss of their natural environment and also how all of the pandas are scattered across many miles from one another. The pandas have been loosing their habitat because of the constant growth of the human population around them along with large areas of natural forest being cleared away for different purposes.

The panda's range of living has been divided into isolated patches which pandas cannot travel between because of how much time is required for eating. This takes away the pandas control over where they live and where they eat.

Poaching is still an issue for pandas. This is a very serious matter for such an endangered species, but the government has been taking action towards poachers. Some poachers have received the death penalty for this crime.

Pandas are among the most endangered species in the world with as little as 1,600 left. Pandas have been officially listed as an endangered species.[7]

Gallery

References

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