National Giant Panda Day 2021

March 16th is the day to honour the adorable black and white Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).  It is also a day to raise awareness of the need to protect one of the world’s rarest mammals and a vulnerable species.  Giant pandas are endemic to China and are China’s national symbol.

Giant Panda, Chengdu Research Centre
Giant Panda, Chengdu Research Centre

They are found in small, isolated areas in the mountains of central China, in the Qinling, Minshan, Qionglai Shan, Liangshan, Daxiangling, and Xiaoxiang Mountains of Sichuan Shaanxi, and Gansu Provinces.

Pandas’ ideal habit is cool, wet, dense bamboo forests between elevations of 1500 – 3000 metres.  Pandas enjoy a solitary life apart from when they are mating or raising young cubs. They live in dens that are self-made in hollowed-out logs, stumps and trees.

Mother and cub giant panda having an afternoon nap, Chengdu Research Centre
Mother and cub having an afternoon nap, Chengdu Research Centre

China has implemented strict laws to reduce hunting and poaching of the giant panda, which has helped in their conservation. However, poaching and killing still happens despite severe punishment of life imprisonment if caught. China has allocated increased protection for the giant panda habitats and is building more facilities and nature reserves to protect the giant pandas. Ongoing conservation work has improved the population of pandas in the wild, and numbers are slowly increasing. The giant panda has been deemed a protected species (CITES).

Chengdu Giant panda Research Base

Originally established in 1987 to care for six sick and hungry giant pandas, this non-profit research centre is now the largest artificial panda breeding centre globally.

Its innovative scientific research and management has successfully bred many giant pandas in captivity and managed disease control in giant pandas. Besides being a research centre, it is also an educational centre for tourists, universities and schools.

Sleepy Giant Panda, Chengdu Research Centre
Sleepy panda, Chengdu Research Centre
REPRODUCTION

The giant panda reaches breeding maturity around 4 – 6 years of age. Mating occurs in springtime. Gestation is around 3 – 5 months, and females’ birth one or two cubs, but often only one cub will survive. Cubs weigh around 85 – 143 grams at birth, are pink in colour and are born blind.  Their eyes do not open until they are around 8 weeks old. Panda cubs are completely helpless and are totally dependent on their mother until they are around 2 months old.  They crawl at around 3 weeks of age and can walk at around 3-month-old. They are totally reliant on their mother’s milk until 6mth old when they start eating bamboo. By 12 months old, cubs are independent and can fend for themselves and leave their mothers to forge their own way in life.

  • Lifespan in the wild: 14 – 20 years
  • Lifespan in captivity: 20 – 35 years
  • Weight: 150+ kg
  • Height: 1 metre tall to the shoulder
Young giant panda cub, Chengdu Research Centre
Young giant panda cub, Chengdu Research Centre
GIANT PANDA FACTS
  • One of the shyest animals in the world 
  • Possesses an extra digit on their hands to aid in tearing bamboo and climbing
  • Powerful jaws and teeth to crush bamboo
  • Their wide paws with retractile claws help in gripping trees when climbing
  • They don’t hibernate. They will take shelter in caves and hollow trees to escape from harsh weather.
  • Giant pandas belong to the bear family
  • They are one of the few animals whose body parts have not been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Around 99% of a panda’s diet is bamboo leaves and shoots
Giant Panda chewing on some bamboo, Chengdu Research Centre
Chewing on some bamboo, Chengdu Research Centre

WHY ARE PANDAS ENDANGERED?

Deforestation and habitat encroachment – clearing forests to make way for agriculture, farming, homes for expanding human population, mining, building roads, railroads, hunting, trapping, logging, wood harvesting and dams 

Pollution – ground and airborne

Climate change – droughts, increasing temperatures are causing pandas to move to higher elevations, further reducing their habitat size and population.

Tourism – disturbance to their habitat for tourism, recreational activities

Giant panda climbing tree, Chengdu Research Centre
Giant panda climbing tree, Chengdu Research Centre
Conservation status:

Giant pandas are no longer on the endangered list. They are now considered ‘vulnerable to extinction. There are 500 – 1,000 individuals left in the wild. Protective measures must be implemented to address all the current threats to their extinction (IUCN).

Please enjoy this short giant panda video

References

https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/712/121745669

https://cites.org/eng/gallery/species/mammal/giant_panda.html

http://www.panda.org.cn/english/about/about/2013-09-11/2416.html

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