AppearanceThe adult panda, weighing about 200 to 300 pounds (90 to 140 kilograms), has a white heavy body, black legs, and a broad band of black across its shoulders. It has a massive round head, short snout, and small, round black ears. The panda has a white face with black patches around each eye. The panda usually grows to about 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) in length, measures 4 and a half feet high, and has a short tail. They have plantigrade feet, that is, both heel and toes make contact with the ground when walking, in a manner similar to humans.
Comparisions are being made between pandas and bears. In fact, some people called pandas "panda bears". If you look at a panda, you may think that it is a bear; however, there are differences in skull structure, teeth and behavior that eliminate it from the bear species.
HabitatPandas live in bamboo forests on upper mountain slopes of western and southwestern China. The size of their home range, when compared to the home ranges of bear species, is quite small. The panda's home range, in general, will vary from 3.8 to 6.5 square kilometers, or 1.5 to 2.5 square miles; it shares its range with other pandas. Female pandas tend to stay in smaller ranges than males do. The female's range is only about 30 to 40 hectares(75 to 100 acres), which is small in comparison with the male's range which is larger and overlaps the home ranges of several females.
Pandas are found in mixed deciduous and evergreen mountain temperate forests. In these forests are bamboo and rhododendron plants, which grow in altitudes between 3,000 and 10,000 feet. Pandas naturally live in the grassy lands of China, staying in rocky places and in hollowed out trees. In the winter, the panda finds shelter in bamboo thickets; they also eat the bamboo. When warmer summer weather arrives, the pandas move up higher into the cold mountains.
Pandas lived near farms and valleys, until the farmers cut down the bamboo for farmland. Pandas eat lots of bamboo, plants, shrubs, trees, and leaves. They usually like to live alone, but when in captivity, they have to live with other pandas. The zoo keepers try to make their home as much like their natural environment as possible, but pandas would rather live alone.
BehaviorPandas spend most of their time by themselves. Most avoid direct contact with others of their own kind. At a stage in their life, pandas are forced to spend time with each other. In the spring, males and females must find each other in order to mate. In autumn, the females give birth to one cub which will live with her for the next 18 months or more.
Pandas usually avoid contact with each other in the wild. In their habitat, their coat helps make them conspicuous to each other, and prevents them from surprising one another by approaching too close to one another.
Pandas show their readiness to fight by lowering their heads to between their front legs, often hiding their eyes with their paws. This position is usually present in females during mating. Aggression is shown by a bark that would send an opponent scampering up the nearest tree.
Food SupplyAlthough the pandas will eat many different kinds of plants, 99% of their diet consists of bamboo leaves, stems, and shoots. Over fifteen different kinds of bamboo grow within the region. Pandas can be very picky eaters.
Pandas need a great deal of food to keep alive. They must eat great amounts of bamboo every day in order to get enough nutrition to survive. Every day they eat for 12 to 16 hours. Pandas will eat 10 to 18 kilograms ( 22 to 40 pounds) of bamboo leaves and stems each day. When consuming fresh bamboo shoots, their necessary intake rises to approximately 38 kilograms (84 pounds) every day. Occasionally, they catch and eat a small bird or mammal.
Life Cycle and YoungFemale pandas do not normally mate until they are 5 to 7 years of age. Mating normally takes place in a manner similar to members of the dog family. Pandas breeding season takes place from March to May, then the baby pandas are born three to six months later, weighing only eighty-five to one hundred forty grams. The female panda gives birth once a year to one or two cubs. Panda cubs are very tiny, weighing only about 5 ounces (140 grams) at birth . Two cubs may be born from one mother at the same time, but only one will survive. The reason for this is because one baby panda alone requires a lot of care. Baby pandas grow in the first four to five years and usually stay with their mother for more than a year. They are blind when first born, but their eyes open after three weeks to a month. The mother panda usually spends about 12 hours per day feeding, staying with the cub 10 days without without feeding herself. Panda cubs are extremely vulnerable while the mother is away feeding on bamboo.
EndangermentPandas are rare today and are protected by law in China. In 1963, the first panda was exhibited in a zoo outside of China. Today, there are more than a dozen pandas in most zoos. Pandas can be seen in zoos in Washington D.C, Mexico City, London, Tokyo, Madrid, Paris, and Berlin. All pandas in zoos are given double names; this is a Chinese custom, which indicates affection. Scientists study the zoo pandas in hope to learn how to save wild pandas from extinction. There are only about 700 to 1000 pandas alive in the world today.