It’s hard to deny that this particular type of bear is one of the best-recognized animals on the planet. Their distinctive black and white coat makes them look cuddly, that’s for sure.
Are these huge bears the friendly giants they appear to be? Let’s find out in this article featuring some of the most interesting facts about the giant panda.
1. It’s one of the 8 members of the family Ursidae
The giant panda is one of the 8 types of bears that make up the family “Ursidae.” Yes, this means that there are only 8 bear species in the world, including some of the most famous ones such as the Polar bear and the brown bear.
They are the only extant members of the subfamily of bears called “Ailuropodinae” and are classified in the genus “Ailuropoda.”
Even though the black and white panda is what we imagine panda bears to look like, there are 2 subspecies of this animal:
- The nominate subspecies (Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca) – The huge black and white panda we all know so well.
- The Qinling panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis) – A smaller and brown version of the huge black and white
Remarkably, the Qinling panda wasn’t officially recognized as a subspecies until the year 2005.
2. These bears are native to South Central China
Even though panda bears can be found in zoos all around the world, they are native to a particular region in South Central China.
These bears can only be found in the mountain ranges of the Sichuan province of the People’s Republic of China and the neighboring provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu.
They were pretty much forced to live in the mountains because of the rapid human development in this region. Before, they lived mainly in the lowland areas of these landlocked provinces.
3. They are classified as carnivores but hardly eat meat
One of the most interesting facts about giant pandas is that they are classified in the order Carnivora. This order consists of mammals that primarily eat flesh.
This is remarkable because the diet of the giant panda consists of over 99% of plants, mainly bamboo, which makes them a folivore. These are a type of herbivore that mainly eats leaves.
While they mainly feed on bamboo sticks, they are also capable of eating other types of grasses and leaves. Meat makes up just a tiny portion of their diet, and if they do indulge in the flesh they eat birds, rodents, or carrion.
4. These are some of the largest bears in the world
They aren’t called giant pandas for no reason because these are huge animals. They aren’t as big as the Polar and brown bears, though, both animals that grow to a length of over 200 centimeters (7.74 inches).
Adult pandas grow to a length of anywhere between 120 and 190 centimeters (47 and 74 inches) and stand between 60 and 90 centimeters (24 and 35 inches) tall at the shoulder. The length doesn’t include their tails which have a length of between 10 and 15 centimeters (4 and 6 inches).
Females are generally 10 to 20% smaller than males and can weigh up to up to 125 kilos (276 lb). Males can weigh up to 160 kilos (350 lb). The average weight of these animals is anywhere between 100 and 115 kilos (220 and 254 lb).
5. They are not “endangered” but “vulnerable” since 2021
Farming and deforestation have been a real threat to these animals. They have already been forced to live in the mountain ranges of their native habitat and their numbers drastically dropped by the early 2000s.
A lot of conservation programs have been started since then for these “conservation-reliant” creatures, especially since their numbers in the wild dropped to an estimated 1,590 individuals in 2008.
Luckily, all the efforts have resulted in success as their numbers have been gradually rising, up to 16.8% by 2015.
Today, the number of giant pandas in the wild has been estimated at over 1,800, a number that prompted the Chinese government to switch their status from “endangered” to “vulnerable” in 2021.
More interesting facts about the giant panda
6. Even though these bears are classified into the family Ursidae, this wasn’t always as clear as it is today. The main reason is that pandas share a lot of characteristics with raccoons.
A molecular study conducted in 1985 has confirmed that they are indeed true bears. They can therefore confidently be classified as one of the 8 extant bear species in the world.
7. Even though these are huge animals, the main reason why they are referred to as “giant pandas” is to distinguish them from “red pandas” that are native to the same region.
This animal is also referred to as the “lesser panda” or the “red bear-cat” and is completely unrelated to panda bears even though it shares the same name.
8. Even though the panda bear still has the digestive system of a carnivore, it feeds a lot exclusively on bamboo sticks. This also means that they hardly have enough protein intake which makes them rather lazy.
To increase their level of energy, they consume copious amounts of bamboo. When we say a lot, we mean it as this can vary anywhere between 9 and 14 kilos (20 and 30 lb) a day.
9. Giant panda cubs are born pink, blind, and toothless, after a gestation period of anywhere between 90 and 165 days. They are extremely vulnerable, and even though adult individuals don’t have natural enemies, cubs have to fear for their lives.
There are plenty of predators around preying on young individuals weighing less than 50 kilos (110 lb). Some of these include snow leopards, eagles, and even Asian black bears.
10. Even though you can sometimes see giant pandas sitting around eating bamboo sticks together, this isn’t the behavior you can see in the wild.
These are for the most part solitary animals that have their territory. Females especially don’t tolerate other females in their territory, and social encounters mainly happen during the breeding season.
11. About half of the pregnancies result in twins being born. The male quickly leaves the female after mating which results in the female being burdened by raising the cubs.
This means that she will choose to bring up the strongest of the two cubs in case she gave birth to twins. The weakest of the two will almost certainly die of starvation as a result.
12. Are giant pandas dangerous? Even though they appear to be extremely cuddly, it’s best to stick to cuddling stuffed toys that resemble these animals. Their appearance can be rather deceptive as they are generally not eager to approach humans.
They have a strong grip and are capable of delivering a bite that can leave people seriously wounded, so hugging them is definitely out of the question!