Instantly recognisable by its stark black and white colouration, especially its black circular marking around its eyes, and its stocky bear-like figure, the giant panda is a beloved animal and has since become a symbol of species conservation. As March 16 is National Panda Day, it’s the ideal opportunity to celebrate and increase more awareness about the adorable yet vulnerable species. Here are some of the most interesting facts about pandas.
Interesting Facts about Pandas
1. 99% of Giant Pandas’ Diet Consists of Bamboo
Pandas eat almost exclusively bamboo shoots and leaves. Despite their vegetarian diet, the animal’s digestive system resembles more like a carnivore’s. On the rare occasion that they forgo bamboo, pandas will likely turn to other vegetation such as pumpkin, kidney beans, wheat, as well as other foods like eggs, fish, and even small mammals.
2. Pandas Spend About 12 Hours A Day Eating
Even though the giant panda depends entirely on bamboo for its survival, the plant itself is a severely poor food source. Bamboos are low in protein and high in lignin and cellulose, combined with the fact that giant pandas are only able to digest about an average of 17% of dry matter, this means that pandas need to consume up to 15% of their body weight in 12 hours to survive and stay healthy.
3. Pandas Defecate More than 100 Times A Day
Since the giant panda eats about 15% of their body weight, this translates into about an average of 12.5kg of bamboo every single day. Based on significant amounts of fibre in their diets, giant pandas as a result, defecate regularly throughout the day. The species is also required to ingest at least two different species of bamboo within its habitat range or faces starvation. A scarcity in bamboo therefore threatens the vulnerable panda population.
4. Adult Pandas Weigh Up to 125 Kilograms
A male giant panda in the wild weighs about 85-125kg while females range between 70-100kg. Despite its large size and weight when it reaches maturity, a panda cub when born, weighs a mere 85-140g.
5. Pandas Have “Pseudo-thumbs”
A giant panda’s front paw has six digits; which is made up of an extended and enlarged wrist bone that they use like an opposable thumb to help them grip food and hold bamboo stems as it eats. Its dexterity makes them good climbers and swimmers; some pandas have been recorded to climb as high as 13,000 feet.
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6. Pandas Communicate via Scent Marking
Giant Pandas make use of a system of traditional communal scent mark stations. They scent to learn and discover reliable locations they can visit to deposit signals and investigate signals left by other individuals. Pandas urinate to mark their scent, often climbing a tree backwards with their hind feet – effectively doing a handstand – enabling them to leave marks at higher locations.
7. Giant Pandas Don’t Hibernate
Most bear species including the black and brown bear go through hibernation with varying lengths of time, but giant pandas are one of the few that don’t. Pandas are mostly solitary creatures, with individuals only coming together during the breeding season between March and May, where females may hide away in rock caves or tree cavities to rear offspring that are produced every two to three years. Pandas also differ from most other bear species in that they have vertical slits for pupils, meaning their eyes are much more similar to domestic cats.
8. Giant Pandas are National Treasures in China
As the giant panda is endemic to China, found only in a few mountain ranges in central China and mainly in Sichuan, the species is regarded as a national treasure and is often served as a national symbol at international events. The animal is often gifted to countries on a 10-year loan basis as part of diplomatic exchanges.
9. Habitat Loss Remains to be the Biggest Threat to Giant Pandas
Much like most threatened species around the world, the loss and fragmentation of habitats have severely impacted the population and overall survival of the giant panda. The habitat changes stem from human activities such as the building of roads, hydroelectric dams, mining, and other infrastructure projects, resulting in many panda populations to shrink and become isolated. Once widely spread, giant pandas are now limited to six small areas in Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces, totaling only 14,000 sq km.
10. Giant Pandas are No Longer Critically Endangered in the Wild
Once at the brink of extinction, giant pandas have become one of the most successful conservation examples in the world thanks to China’s stringent ecological restoration efforts and extensive resources in repopulating bamboo forests. Giant panda population in the wild has increased up to 1,800, and with the species successfully downgraded from its status as a ‘critically endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the effects of climate change could threaten to reverse conservation efforts and severely impact giant panda habitats. Several models estimate extreme climate conditions could result in the loss of bamboo habitat ranging from 37% to 100% by the end of the century.