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The giant panda is a unique bear that makes his home in the plains of China and Tibet.  This bear is special in that its fur is a perfect black and white sketch, and its face is circular rather than angular.  The panda’s name derives from words that literally mean “black-and-white cat foot”.  The giant panda can grow up to six feet tall, and weighs in at around 330 pounds.

Pandas have roamed the Chinese plains for centuries, feeding on bamboo and lounging lazily.  Their thick fur protects them from the sometimes chilly weather of their habitat, and their black and white patterning helps camouflage them in the rocky and snowy terrain they sometimes inhabit.

The panda’s main diet is bamboo shoots.  Since the bamboo offers little nourishment, the panda must go through several meals a day.  In fact, the panda has been known to eat thirty to forty pounds of bamboo a day.  The panda’s teeth are large and flat, perfect for crushing the tough bamboo.

As the pandas finish off an entire bamboo forest, they move on to the next one in order to continue feeding.  While panda’s will sometimes eat other items, for instance eggs, rodents, or bird, their main diet is the nourishment-lacking bamboo.  They have adjusted their habits to account for the lack of nourishment.  Pandas tend to lie around, exerting little energy.  This conserves their stamina for the times they really need it.

Pandas breed in the wild; however, their birth rates are low as a female is only fertile for a minimal five days at a time.  A female panda might only produce offspring once every two years.  When a cub is born, it might weigh as little as three and a half ounces.  As pandas don’t have dens, the mother panda seeks out a shelter for her cub, usually in a hallowed out tree.  While the mother bear stays with her cub for the majority of each day, she does leave the tiny creature alone for hours at a time in order to eat.  This leaves the cub alone and unprotected.

Pandas don’t hibernate.  Instead they migrate to warmer climates during the winter months.

The Giant Pandas Place in History

The giant panda has been a beloved bear for centuries.  In ancient China, the giant pandas were given to emperors for gifts, and panda furs were given as a symbol of goodwill.  The mother of Emperor Wen of Han was even buried with the skull of a giant panda.

Throughout time the local people have hunted the giant panda, using its furs for blankets and clothing and its meat for food.

For many years the panda was kept a Chinese secret.  In the mid 1800’s the first westerners were introduced to the panda.  A French missionary was given a panda fur as a gift, and the panda’s popularity took off from there.

In the 1960’s the World Wildlife Fund was created.  The panda became their official symbol.

Pandas became a diplomatic entity during this time period.  They were exchanged between China and other countries as a sign of goodwill.  Today Pandas aren’t given as gifts.  However, the Chinese government does loan them to other countries for the purpose of breeding and conservation.  There are a handful of zoos in the United States which house pandas.  They rent them from the People’s Republic of China for a hefty price.

The giant panda is important for economy of the local people.  The giant pandas bring in tourists, which feeds the communities surrounding the panda reservations. These communities are also known for fishing and water development.   If the numbers don’t improve, then these tourist communities will suffer.

The Endangerment of the Giant Panda

In the 1950’s China went through a population boom.  Over the years the number of residents in that country has continued to rise.  This rise has given way to expansion and development of cities and housing.

Unfortunately the expansion has encroached on the bamboo forests that house the giant pandas.  As more and more of these bamboo forests are chopped down to make way for housing, pandas are forced to find new homes and food sources.  Many pandas can’t make it to the next forest in time, and they starve to death.

The loss of habitat and the natural low birth rate of the giant panda are the main threats to the panda’s existence.  Another threat to the giant panda is poaching.  Pandas have long been hunted for their exotic furs and meat.  Poachers hunt the animals and sell them on the black market.

Because of these circumstances, the numbers in the giant panda community have dwindled significantly.  It is estimated that there are currently less than twenty-five hundred pandas in the wild today.  They were placed on the endangered species list, and are now protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation Efforts

Early tries at conserving the giant panda were mostly unsuccessful.  It was thought that by caging the panda and forcing breeding that the panda population could be recouped.  However, the pandas did poorly locked in cages, and conservationists found that once the pandas were captured they lost all interest in breeding.

This lack of success was due mostly to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the giant panda and how it worked.

Panda advocates knew that further measures were needed.

Through conservation efforts more than forty panda reserves have now been created.  These reserves are free from people, and protect the panda’s from the expansion of the human population.  Furthermore, laws were put in place making it illegal to poach the panda, and poachers who were caught could be punished.  In spite of these efforts, poaching remains a huge threat to the giant panda.

Today the panda is still considered rare, and remains on the endangered species list.

Further conservation efforts being considered by the World Wildlife Fund include building and maintaining more panda reservations, finding and creating links between isolated pandas in the wild, and continuing the research and studying of the giant panda.

Conservation Opposition

The movement has faced opposition, however.  There are some who say that while pandas are beautiful and rare, money spent on conservation efforts would be more wisely used elsewhere.  They argue that there is greater need to other species.

In spite of this, though, pandas continue to be loved around the world for their unique design and nature.  The future of the giant panda remains uncertain.  Efforts are still in place to keep the pandas’ numbers on the rise, and hopefully get it off the endangered species list altogether.