GENERAL PANDA FAQS PDF Print E-mail
About Pandas
 

General Panda FAQs

How do scientists classify Giant Pandas?

Under the scientific classification known as taxonomy, the giant panda’s class is Mammalia (mammal).  Their order is Carnivora (carnivores).  Their family is Ursidae (bears).  Their genus or species is Ailuropoda melanoleuca, which translates to “black-and-white cat-foot.”

 


Why are pandas black and white?

There is a variety of theories -- but no clear explanation -- for the unique color pattern of the giant panda.  The dark and light pattern complements the shadow and light of the bamboo forest, so that in patches of dense bamboo, a giant panda is nearly invisible, and can virtually disappear on snow-covered mountains.  But giant pandas have no natural enemies from which to hide, so camouflage is not needed for survival.  Another theory is that the pattern may help giant pandas identify one another from a distance, so that they may avoid each other and remain solitary.  Possibly, it helps pandas maintain an even temperature, since black absorbs heat while the white reflects it. 

 


Where are giant pandas found in the wild?

All wild giant pandas in the wild can be found within an area of about 14,600 square miles in one of three Chinese provinces: 

 

  • small isolated areas in north and central Sichuan Province,
  • in the mountains bordering the southernmost part of Gansu Province, or
  • in the Qin Ling Mountains of Shaanxi Province.
Only forty-five percent of suitable panda habitat is protected, with sixty-one percent of wild pandas living in the protected areas.  These areas contain dense bamboo and coniferous forests often shrouded in heavy clouds, where torrential rains or dense mist occur throughout the year.  Pandas live at altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet. 

 

 

How large is the wild giant panda’s territory?

Pandas typically do not move very far, as long as their habitat has all the bamboo they need.  Both males and females roam through areas varying in size from one to ten square miles, although some females studied by researchers had home ranges as small as 75 to 100 acres.  However, pandas occasionally take long hikes outside of their normal territory to locate preferred bamboo species as the seasons change and find potential mates.  Or more typically, they migrate up and down the mountainside to find their favorite bamboo.

 

 

Are pandas still considered endangered?

Although the number of pandas has increased in recent years, due to measures taken to preserve the species, they are still considered endangered, with approximately 1,600 pandas in the wild and approximately 230 in captivity (although this number may exceed 250 by the close of the 2007 birthing season). 

 

 

What is the largest threat to giant panda survival in the wild?

The largest threat to giant panda survival is habitat destruction, with their bamboo forest habitat being cleared for agriculture and timber.  This has the effect of fragmenting the panda population, leaving small groups isolated from one another and susceptible to extinction through drought, illness or inbreeding.  There are now 59 panda reserves in China, and efforts are continuing to both expand the amount of land contained in reserves, while increasing the captive population in zoos and breeding centers.  Chinese scientists believe that having 300 captive pandas will be sufficient to maintain the genetic diversity of the species, and are working to increase the captive population to reach that number.

 

 

How do pandas compare to other bears, like the black bear?

Giant pandas are about the same size as American black bears, measuring four to six feet long, 27 to 32 inches tall at the shoulder, and weighing between 150 and 250 pounds.  Some captive pandas have been as heavy as 350 pounds.  They do not hibernate like black bears, and usually do not walk upright on their hind legs, although they can.

 

 

What is the giant panda’s coat like?

Giant pandas have thick, woolly coats with an oily protective coating that keep them warm in the cool forests of their natural habitat in the mountainous regions of China.  Their fur is very thick and coarse, with a coarse outer layer and a very dense, wooly-like underfur. The fur of giant pandas is black around the ears, eyes, legs, and shoulders. The rest of their body, including their tails, is covered in white fur.

 

 

What do wild giant pandas eat?

Bamboo, bamboo, and more bamboo!  Bamboo is 99% percent of a wild giant panda’s diet.  For more information, see our diet page.

 

 

How do pandas eat bamboo?

Pandas are similar to apes in that they have what appears to be a functional opposable thumb.  But while an ape’s thumb is a modified fifth digit, like a human thumb, a giant panda has more of a pseudo-thumb, an extension of the wrist bone which functions as a sixth digit.  Pandas use their thumb, which is covered with a fleshy pad of skin, to grasp bamboo shoots and strip leaves from the stalks.  With their thumbs, they can quickly pluck, break, and peel bamboo quickly, and before finishing one stalk, often have a second stalk ready to go.

 

 

How do pandas digest bamboo?

Not very well, when you consider that they digest 20% or less of the bamboo they eat.  They have the stomachs of carnivores, and do not have the multiple stomachs or enzymes that allow herbivores like horses or cows to break down the plant fiber they eat.  Unlike horses or cows, which take 24 hours to process food, giant pandas excrete waste in 5 to

 

13 hours, allowing them continue eating without getting full.  They may eat as much as 40 pounds of food a day, but also can produce up to 48 pounds of waste every 24 hours.  That’s a lot of panda poop!

 

 

How much do pandas sleep?

A lot:  up to ten hours a day, two to four hours at a time, although during the summer months, their naps can be as long as six hours.  Pandas continue to defecate while they sleep, so the number of droppings at a site helps indicate how long a panda has been napping, with rests lasting more than two hours accumulating between 11 and 25 droppings.  Typical resting sites include the base of a tree, in a hollow tree, against or on top of a fallen log, a stump, or on a boulder, and once pandas find a favorite spot, they may use it repeatedly.

 

 

How much time do pandas spend with each other?

Not very much – they are solitary animals.  The males and females typically come together only for breeding season.  They do not live in family units, and the male does not assist in rearing the cub.  Cubs are weaned at between 1 ½ to 2 years of age, and are generally on their own until they reach sexual maturity at ages 4 to 5.  However, some recent studies of wild pandas suggest they are loosely organized into small groups of 7 to 15 pandas.  In zoos, male and female pairs closely interact outside of breeding season.  Their familiarity is even believed to help with breeding, as females seem to prefer mating with males they have known for a longer time.

 

 

How do pandas communicate with each other?

Giant pandas do not typically communicate using their bodies.  Their faces do not register facial expressions, and they have no crest or mane to erect.  Their ears are not flexible enough to cock forward or flatten.  Their tails are stubs and are not capable of voluntary movements.  Scientists believe that pandas never developed the capacity to communicate using their bodies due to their dense and fog-enshrouded habitat, which obscures vision, and their solitary nature.  Giant pandas occasionally vocalize when playing, and while mating, become very vocal and expressive.  Giant pandas mostly communicate with each other through scent marking.

 

 

What is scent marking?

Giant pandas rub secretions from their anal glands onto tree trunks, rocks, or on the ground, to mark the territory where they most commonly tread.  The secretion is a dark spot of thick, sticky, molasses-like material that could not be removed without scraping.  Giant pandas scent mark from a variety of postures, including a head stand, leg cock, and squatting. 

 

 

What information do scent marks communicate?

Scent marks cannot be smelled by humans, but alert giant pandas to the presence of another panda in the vicinity. At the very least, pandas based on odor alone can probably identify the sex, age and identity of the scent marker, as well as interpret the marker’s mood and reproductive status at the time it left the scent mark.  Because the scent mark remains for an extended period, giant pandas may even be able to tell when the visit occurred.  As a final touch, pandas may leave a visual sign accompanying the scent mark such as peeled bark or claw marks to guide other pandas to the scent mark’s location.

 

 

Why do pandas scent mark?

Scent marking may keep pandas separate (outside breeding season) or bring them together (during breeding season).  A panda encountering an unfamiliar scent mark outside of breeding season knows to stay away.  During breeding season, a female’s scent mark advertises her readiness for mating.  Females are more likely to accept a male for mating when she recognizes his scent as one she has smelled in her range all year long. 

 

 

Do pandas play with each other?

In the spring, between March and May, pandas begin engaging in play behavior to get ready for breeding season.  One giant panda will invite another to play by rolling into a ball and somersaulting.  The two may also mount each other in a non-aggressive, non-sexual way, or stand over and on top of each other.  They may engage in wrestling play, by grabbing, pushing, clawing, and swatting with their forearms and hind limbs, as in slow motion, without the intensity of a real fight.  Pandas may have paw-swatting contests, especially when the female is above the male looking down from a different height.

 

 

How long do pandas live?

In the wild, giant pandas live to around 20 years old. In captivity, they typically live 25 to 30 years with some animals living even longer.  Bao Bao of the Berlin Zoo, born in 1978, is currently the oldest panda living in captivity.  Mei Mei, the world's longest living panda in captivity, was the equivalent of 108 human years when she died at the age of 36 in 2005 at Guilin City Zoo in the Guangxi region of China.

 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 27 October 2007 )
 
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