Giant pandas are just the – Giant! The black and white beast can grow to between 1.2 and 1.8 meters long and up to 90cm at the shoulders. Males weigh an average of 160kg with females only reaching up to 125kg. The panda has the typical body shape of a bear, but has very unique markings. Its ears, eye patches, muzzle, shoulders, arms and legs are covered in black fur, while the rest of its body is white. There is no real consensus in the scientific community as to why pandas are colored the way they are, but one theory is that the markings aid in camouflage. What is known, is that the panda’s thick coat provides enough warmth to withstand the cold temperatures of Central; China.
Where do pandas live? It is estimated that there are at least 1500 pandas living in the wild. Pandas are, for the most part, solitary animals, with their own defined territory. Communication is primarily through vocalization and scent marking such as the spraying of urine. Unlike other subtropical mammals, pandas do not hibernate, because they do not establish a permanent den – instead they will move to warmer locations.
What do pandas eat
Pandas are classified as carnivores; however a panda’s diet is mostly herbivorous – eating almost only bamboo. In saying that, a panda still has a carnivorous digestive tract. A diet of bamboo provides very little energy and protein. On average a panda will consume up to 14kg of bamboo in a single day. As such, pandas will defecate up to 40 times per day. Because of the limited energy consumption pandas have adapted their behaviour accordingly. Not only has the panda adapted behaviorally, it has adapted physically in that it has developed very powerful jaw muscles and large molars to grind up its food. It is this adaptation which gives the panda its very distinctive facial structure.
It is interesting to note that in order for a panda to survive it needs at least two different species of bamboo growing in its habitat to avoid starvation. This is because the life cycle of a single bamboo species is synchronized in that it will flower, die and regenerate at the same time. So in order to have a constant supply off food a panda needs at least two species of bamboo that are not synchronized.
Other giant panda facts
Pandas are very bad at reproducing. After capture pandas seems to lose their libido, as such scientists have resorted to various methods to encourage breeding behavior – including showing captive pandas videos of other pandas mating and giving male pandas Viagra. Artificial insemination has been the only real successful method of breeding pandas in captivity. Pandas are sexually mature at four to eight years old and will be reproductive until the age of 20. Females only have a two to three day period per year where they are receptive to fertilization, sometime between March and May. Gestation is relatively short, lasting only 95-180 days. After which a tiny pink, blind and toothless cub is born. Weighing only 1/800th of the mother’s weight it takes the cub 75-80 more days to begin to crawl. Cubs will usually stay with their mother until they are 18 month to two years old.
Pandas have a very low birth rate and they are constantly struggling against habitat loss. As such, pandas are classified as endangered. While there was a long history of poaching, this was significantly reduced as a result of wars during the 1930s which limited foreign access to poaching the animals. However, the 1950s saw a boom in the human population – subsequently increasing pressure on the pandas environment. Only in the 90s were laws passed in China to actually help stop the falling number of wild pandas.