Always in style, these monochrome beauties still need our help. On this Wildlife Wednesday, we talk about the giant panda.
Today’s topic is the familiar monochrome muzzle of the giant panda. They are cute enough to grace the iconic logo of the WWF and cool enough to be hailed as Kung-Fu masters by Disney. We challenge you to find a single person under 30 who doesn’t own a panda-themed accessory.
Giant pandas live in a select few forested mountain ranges in central China. The forests are densely populated with bamboo, the giant pandas’ main food source. Their habitat is frequently engulfed in dense clouds as a result of the year-round mist and heavy rain.
- Although vegetarian, a panda’s digestive system is more akin to that of a carnivore; much of their diet is passed as waste. As a result, a panda needs to eat 26 to 84 lbs (12 to 38 kg) of bamboo per day to make sure it gets enough nutrients.
- Pandas’ unique and endearing way of eating, (sitting on their haunches and grasping at bamboo with their paws) is possible by a “pseudo-thumb.” These bears have an elongated wrist bone covered by a fleshy pad of skin, which makes it possible for them to hold on to unwieldy stalks (or naughty cubs).
- A panda cub is the smallest newborn mammal in comparison to its mother, weighing in at just five oz (141 g). It is blind for six to eight weeks and will be nursed for eight to nine months.
- Panda cubs stay with their mother for up to three years before setting off into the world alone.
- Unlike most bears, pandas do not hibernate. Instead they will move to a lower elevation, and rely on their woolly coats for protection from the elements.
Why are they threatened?
Although their faces are prevalent in everyday society, giant pandas are still endangered. Just 1,600 are believed to currently exist in the wild.
Deforestation, destruction of links between habitats, and a slow reproduction rate all contribute to the plight of the panda population. The Yangtze Basin region of China is booming with economic growth. As a result, the panda’s only habitat is being split up by roads and railways. This isolates the population, preventing mating and restricting access to bamboo.
The conservation of pandas has been a long slog, starting the 1960s with the establishment of forest reserves especially for the conservation of giant pandas. Nowadays, there are almost 60 panda reserves, covering 3.8 million acres of forest. That being said, only 61% of the panda population is protected by these reserves.
How can I help?
The World Wildlife Fund runs an adopt-a-panda campaign, where you can learn more about this elusive species, make a donation to help its cause, and get an adorable plush panda for keeps. It also holds Panda Tours, which run from spring to fall. These tours offer a rare chance to glimpse pandas in the wild, under the guidance of WWF experts.