Known as the giant panda, the panda bear or simply panda, the adorably cute black-and-white creature has become one of China's most iconic images and an internet sensation with videos of their hilarious antics. Native to the south central region of China, pandas once roamed a vast area of China as well as small pockets of neighbouring Burma (Myanmar) and the very north of Vietnam. After many years of deforestation and loss of habitat due to farming and urban development, pandas have been forced out of their original lowland habitat and the small number of pandas that exist in the wild today are now concentrated in six mountain ranges covered with small bamboo forests.
What do pandas eat?
Although classified as a carnivore, the panda's diet consists largely of bamboo, which has contributed to their demise as large areas of bamboo forest are cut down to make way for new highways and ever-increasing urban sprawl. Pandas in the wild will also forage for other types of grasses and wild tubers, occasionally feeding on small birds and rodents. Pandas in captivity enjoy a diet of fruit, yams and sugar cane alongside their much-loved bamboo.
How big are giant pandas?
Typical in appearance to other members of the bear family, the panda has a thick body, a large head, round ears and strong legs and arms for climbing. Adult male pandas are usually between 1.2 and 1.9 metres in length, weighing up to 160kg, while the female is typically 20% smaller and weighs anything between 70 and 125kg.
How do pandas behave?
A large portion of a wild panda's day is taken up with eating. As bamboo has little nutritional value, an adult panda must consume up to 20kg per day, which takes around 16 hours due to the time spent foraging and the amount of chewing required. The rest of a panda's time is spent sleeping or relaxing. In the wild pandas are territorial creatures and spend most of their time alone except during the brief mating season, which takes place between March and May. Pandas communicate with one another through scent markings and calls that can resemble the bleats of a young goat as well as more bear-like huffs and growls.
How long do pandas live for?
It's difficult to ascertain how long a panda may live for in the wild but the estimate is around 20 years while pandas in captivity fare much better with an average life expectancy of 30 years. On 28th July 2015 the female panda known as Jia Jia celebrated her 37th birthday at Hong Kong's Ocean Park, making her the oldest panda to have lived in captivity.
Interesting facts about the panda
- The giant panda's paw has a pseudo thumb and five fingers that enable it to hold and tear bamboo
- Despite claims that the panda was more strongly related to raccoons, it has been discovered that its closest living relative is the spectacled bear of South America
- The panda may choose a largely vegetarian diet but it has one of the largest molar teeth among carnivores with an extra molar to slice through tough plant stems
- The giant panda has the second longest tail in the bear family measuring on average between 10 and 15cm - the longest tail is claimed by the sloth bear with an average length of 15-18cm
- Pandas may prefer a sedentary life but they possess the necessary survival skills and are adept tree climbers and able swimmers
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