The Giant Panda is one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet. For many years, it was believed to be a type of racoon, like the similarly named red panda. However, genetics testing and observation have revealed that the panda is in fact, a bear. It has several adaptations that make it unusual. First is the fact that it has six digits on the front paws, giving it an opposable thumb ideal for holding onto the stalks of bamboo which it consumes in great amounts. The genitalia of the male are rear-pointing and small which is also decidedly unbearish, and much more like those of the red panda. It has only been since 1995 that the Panda has been officially considered a bear.
Like most bears, pandas are solitary animals. Females with cubs being the only exception. They mark their territories by scratching trees and by rubbing a musky anogenital gland against rocks and trees. Additionally, they communicate with different vocalizations. Scientists have identified 11 distince calls, but cannot identify the exact function of all of them.
One of the most alarming panda bear facts is the size of their total population. The worldwide total estimate is less than 1600 and has put the giant panda bear on the endangered species list. Their ability to survive as a species is challenging. The most critical factor is the destruction of their natural habitat. Education, conservation, reserves, and captive breeding are some of the efforts being practiced to prevent their numbers from declining.
The giant panda lifespan is difficult to determine in the wild. Studies indicate that the average estimate is somewhere between 15 and 25 years.
Pandas live in remote mountainous areas that have dense forests of bamboo. Their remaining living area is at very high altitudes that have not been developed by people. They may descend to lower levels to live during the winter, but not past the point where humans are present.
The giant panda has a very specialized diet consisting nearly entirely of bamboo. It eats all parts of the bamboo including the stalk, leaves, shoots, and roots. The plant is highly fibrous and low in nutrition. Combined with the fact that pandas digest a very low percentage of what they eat, they must consume huge quantities to absorb sufficient nutrients.
Pandas can eat 30 to 45 pounds of bamboo every day. Once baby pandas are finished nursing, they voraciously dine on bamboo.0