Panda-Monium: How Much Do You Really Know About These Yin and Yang Bears?

Panda-Monium: How Much Do You Really Know About These Yin and Yang Bears?

Posted by Matt Prior on Aug 13, 2017

Pandas- one of Earth’s favourite creatures. They are smiley, cuddly and endearing animals, the face of the WWF, and an animal that we have all grown up to love. But how much do you really know about our furry friends? Did you know that they are one of the national symbols of China, signifying peace and unity? Did you know that they can weigh more than 100kg, even when just on a bamboo diet?

Check out the points below and feed yourself some panda knowledge.

Are Pandas Bears?

We often get asked, is a Panda a bear? Well, while it may shock you to hear that Pandas are quite similar in their genetic build-up to racoons, they are indeed part of the bear family. Some studies were even arguing that Pandas were their own species, but once zoologists completed all their research, there was no doubt what the result was showing.

However, in case this comes up in a quiz somewhere down the line- Giant Pandas and Red Pandas are somewhat surprisingly not of the same family, as evolution suggests that they were evolved from different strands. In fact, the red panda is likely to have evolved from the same family as a raccoon all those millions of years ago. What a strange thought!

Where Do Pandas Live?

You may have spotted our Panda Volunteer Experience in China whilst journeying through our website. China is a huge hub for the World’s mammal and amphibian species, being that they cannot be found anywhere else. The Giant Panda is no different, being native to China and seeing its numbers dwindle to near extinction in recent years until huge efforts were made to increase their numbers. Giant Panda habitats can be found in mountainous areas in central China, in provinces such Sichuan and Gansu.

As the Chinese governments of recent years has made huge efforts to protect one of their most famous groups of inhabitants, there has still been huge threats to their homes, so many Pandas have been relocated to more secure nature reserves to ensure safety.

What Do Pandas Eat?

Pandas, as the story goes, love to gnaw on bamboo shoots for hours. A panda diet is typically made up of around 15-40kg of bamboo shoots a day- Now that is one massive salad, so big in fact, that it is part of the reason why Pandas have struggled to survive in the wild, due to lack of bamboo.

A panda’s daily food intake doesn’t just stop there- panda food will also include other vegetarian options such a leaves and stems, and whole plants if they fancy digging up the bulbs. However, just to throw a spanner in the works, a panda might not always be entirely faithful with its vegetarianism. Sometimes, on a lonely afternoon in the mountains, they might spot a small rodent running around, and gobble it up. Their ancestry suggests that pandas were indeed carnivorous anyway, so this idea isn’t completely alien. However, just bamboo on its own is not enough for a panda to transfer into energy, so it is vital that its local environment can provide enough food for them.

Why Are Pandas Black and White?

This has been speculated for a long time, and there has been a tonne of research being published as to why Pandas are black and white. Many believed initially that it was because of their diet; that their fur was coloured and healthy-looking based on their healthy vegetarian diet- and that may be true, to an extent. Others have suggested that their colouration may be down to temperature regulation- again, this may only be slightly accurate.

The real reason that pandas have black and white fur is because they have adapted to their typical mountainous landscape, and have disguised themselves well against predators. Yes, other animals actually want to eat these adorable bears, it’s sad. The white fur hides pandas in snow, which is often the forecast in the mountainous regions in Central China. The black is of course the shadowy parts of their habitat. If you notice, when you see photos/videos of pandas, they have black circles around their eyes. This has been claimed by scientists to be the way pandas can tell where their peers are, in a hidden state. It can also act as a defence mechanism, as having black patches around their eyes may appear intimidating to predators that are thinking of attacking. The same goes for their black ears, having them can be signalling hostility to any threatening behaviour towards them.

Are Pandas Endangered?

As of 2014, pandas are no longer officially endangered. A great piece of news to receive for animal lovers worldwide- but this doesn’t mean that they are still not under threat. For starters, when you Google “how many pandas are left in the wild?” you will see that there are still, as of the last panda consensus, only 1864. This is a shockingly low number on the face of it, especially when considering just how vast China is. However, to compare it to the previous consensus in 2007, there has been a rise of approximately one thousand in the wild, so even though human development may have almost wiped out one of the most famous and beautiful animals on the planet, at least their numbers are rising.

With plenty of research being made on pandas, scientists now understand the hardships of a panda life cycle, starting with the birth of a new-born. Some mothers can bare up to six cubs in one lifetime, others sometimes struggle with one. By now, you’ve most likely seen those incredibly cute videos of baby pandas rolling around having fun and enjoying life, but what is important to remember is the effort taken by conservationists and scientists to give those little guys a chance at life in the first place. Yes, the majority of the damage done to the panda numbers is at the fault of human greed and ignorance, but at least now there is hope for those pandas to grow and reproduce.

In the wild, a panda can live around twenty years on average, whereas in captivity they usually live around thirty years. The oldest is currently at thirty-eight! That’s one old bear!

Ten Facts About Pandas

Here are some more quick-fire panda facts that you wish you’d known before:

  • -Their official scientific name is “Ailuropoda melanoleuca”- try saying that with a mouthful of bamboo!
  • -Pandas can poop a lot- up to forty times a day, in fact!
  • -Out of all the male pandas in the wild, around 60% of them have no sexual desire whatsoever- meaning more time for eating and sleeping, right?!
  • -Pandas were only first discovered by the west when a French missionary was given a panda skin as a gift- and subsequently found that these bears were being hunted at a large scale.
  • -Female pandas are only fertile for up to three days per year- talk about scheduling!
  • -The WWF actually chose the panda as their choice of logo to save printing costs- how cheeky is that!
  • -One giant panda needs around four square miles of land to itself, in order to survive- they might just be the most claustrophobic animals in the world!
  • -When labelling a group of pandas together, they are called “an embarrassment of pandas”- You can’t make this stuff up!
  • -Pandas have a strange walk, their front paws are pointed inwards as they move.
  • -New-born baby pandas weigh less than a smart-phone- but don’t take as good a photo!

The more the world knows about the plight of the panda, the more chance we have of increasing their numbers. As there are still below two-thousand in the wild, hopefully we have enough knowledge and understanding to continue to increase that number. Pandas may be high-maintenance, but we should be proud to share our planet with them. Their smiles and playfulness should be seen by all, and remind everyone that we are lucky to still have such a wonderfully puzzling and charming creature out there.

Matt Prior

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