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Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) date back two to three million years.  Ancient Chinese emperors kept pandas because they were believed to ward off evil spirits as well as natural disasters.  There is an ancient Chinese story about how giant pandas got their unique markings. A young girl who was a friend of these bears died and the pandas were struck with sorrow. They wept at her funeral and rubbed their eyes with their arms. The dark color from their armbands was wiped onto their eyes. The bears then hugged themselves and marked their ears, shoulders, hind legs and rumps, resulting in the pattern seen today. 

Today pandas are found only in a relatively small area in Asia on mountainous slopes in Western China and limited to the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shanxi in the central part of the country. They exist on a diet largely comprised of bamboo shoots. Their diet is extremely limited and found only in a specific habitat. In fact, their individual habitat range is only about one square mile. Giant pandas can spend 10-12 hours a day feeding in order to consume enough food to survive. They are well known for their upright feeding position, which leaves their forelegs free to handle the bamboo stalks. The panda has adapted several special characteristics related to eating bamboo. It has an extra digit on its hand that helps in tearing the bamboo. This adaptation also allows increased dexterity while handling bamboo. The stomach walls are extremely muscular to help digest the woody diet; and the gut is covered with a thick layer of mucus to protect against splinters.

The Giant Panda population is closely tied to bamboo abundance and vice versa because pandas help to distribute the bamboo seeds. However, as panda numbers dwindle so does the bamboo, making it harder for them to find food. As the bamboo dies out, the panda population falls. There are very few Pandas left in the wild, only between 600 - 1000. Combined with high infant mortality, their survival is seriously threatened and they are considered an endangered species.

Because of their limited number, there are very few pandas in zoos. In 1972, the Chinese government gave a male named Hsing-Hsing and female called Ling-Ling to the United States as a gesture of friendship. The pandas went to the Washington zoo where they mated successfully.  Ling-Ling gave birth to three sets of twins during the 1980's, but unfortunately, all of the cubs died shortly after birth. The successful reproductive rates of Pandas are very low because the breeding period lasts only 24 - 48 hours. Efforts are underway by both the Chinese and Americans to develop successful artificial insemination programs of captive pandas in order to increase their numbers. Hope for the pandas' long-term survival depends on the success of these programs.

An adult Giant Panda can grow up to 3   feet tall and weigh up to 350 pounds. In the wild, female pandas typically give birth once a year to two cubs. The newborns weigh about 5 ounces and are completely white and blind at birth. Unlike most bears at birth, giant panda cubs are covered with a thin layer of fur. When the cub is about a month old, the black areas begin to develop. Infant pandas open their eyes at 3 weeks, but cannot move around on their own for three to four months. A cub begins to eat bamboo at about six months and is fully weaned from its mother by about nine months. Normally they stay with their mothers until they are about 1 years old. By the end of the first year, the young pandas weigh 70 to 80 pounds. A panda reaches maturity in five to seven years and can live in the wild up to 25 years. Except for the breeding season, which is between March and May, pandas are solitary creatures. Unlike bears, Giant Pandas do not hibernate during the winter months. They have much leaner diets and do not build up the level of fat required for hibernation. However, they will descend to lower elevations during the winter. Giant pandas do not build permanent dens but take shelter in trees and caves. They primarily remain on the ground but they are good climbers and can swim. 


The Great Wall of China Chinese Dynasties
Along the Silk Road Chinese Calligraphy
Pair of Panda Bears
Pair of Panda Bears
Pandas ~ 8 Inch Curved Bowl
Pandas ~ 8 Inch Curved Bowl
Family of Pandas ~ Silk Embroidery
Family of Pandas ~ Silk Embroidery
Mother and Baby Panda
Mother and Baby Panda
10 Playful Panda Bears
10 Playful Panda Bears

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