The giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family and among the world’s most threatened animals. However due to its appealing nature and appearance it has become universally loved and as such attracts enormous effort and financial support to help protect it. Be that as it may, the giant panda's future still remains uncertain.

As China's economy continues to develop rapidly, the giant panda faces a number of clear threats.

Its forest habitat is increasingly fragmented by roads and railway lines, habitat loss continues to occur outside of protected areas, and poaching remains an ever-present threat.

As we learn more about the giant panda, the chances of saving it for future generations can only improve so the more facts that can be uncovered about this amazing creature the better.

Panda Facts

1. The panda, or more accurately known as the Giant Panda is a true bear native to central-western and south western China. It is not related to the red panda!

2. The panda is easily recognizable by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body.

3. The western world first learned of the giant panda in 1869 when the French missionary Armand David received a skin from a hunter on 11 March 1869.

4. The first living giant panda to be seen outside China was by the German zoologist Hugo Weigold, who purchased a cub in 1916.

5. As the emblem of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and more recently the main character in the hit Kung Fu Panda films, the Giant Panda is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals, and is one of the few in the world whose natural inhabitant status was able to gain a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

6. The giant panda is an endangered species because it is threatened by continued habitat loss and by a very low birth rate, both in the wild and in captivity.

7. The giant panda has been a target for poaching by locals since ancient times and then by foreigners since it was introduced to the West. Thankfully, starting in the 1930s, foreigners were unable to poach giant pandas in China because of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War, but pandas still remained a source of soft furs for the locals. The population boom in China after 1949 created further stress on the panda's' habitat, and the subsequent famines led to the increased hunting of wildlife, including the Giant Pandas.

8. During the Cultural Revolution, all studies and conservation activities on the pandas were stopped. Then after the Chinese economic reform, demand for panda skins from Hong Kong and Japan led to illegal poaching for the black market -acts which were generally ignored by the local officials at the time.

9. The Wolong National Nature Reserve was set up by the PRC government in 1958 to save the declining panda population, but few advances in the conservation of pandas were made, due to inexperience and insufficient knowledge of Giant Panda ecology. Many believed that the best way to save the pandas was to cage them. As a result, pandas were caged at any sign of decline, and suffered further from the terrible conditions.

10. Because of pollution and destruction of their natural habitat, along with segregation due to caging, reproduction of wild pandas was severely limited. But things began to change in the 1990s, when several laws (including gun control and the removal of resident humans from the reserves) helped the chances of survival for pandas. With these renewed efforts and improved conservation methods, wild pandas have started to increase in numbers in some areas, even though they still are classified as a rare species.

11. In 2006, scientists reported that the number of pandas living in the wild may have been underestimated at about 1,000. Previous population surveys had used conventional methods to estimate the size of the wild panda population, but using a new method that analysers DNA from panda droppings, scientists believe that the wild panda population may be as large as 3,000. Although the species is still endangered, it is thought that the conservation efforts are working. In 2006, there were 40 panda reserves in China, compared to just 13 reserves two decades ago.

12. Despite its taxonomic classification as a carnivore, the giant panda's diet is primarily herbivorous, consisting almost exclusively of bamboo. However, the giant panda still has the digestive system of a carnivore, as well as carnivore-specific genes, and thus derives little energy and little protein from consumption of bamboo. Its ability to digest cellulose is due to the presence of specialised microbes in its gut. The giant panda is therefore a highly specialized animal with unique adaptations having evolved to live in bamboo forests for millions of years.

13.The average giant panda eats as much as 9 to 14 kg (20 to 30 pounds) of bamboo shoots a day. Because the giant panda consumes a diet low in nutrition, it is important for it to keep its digestive tract full. The limited energy input imposed on it by its diet has affected the panda's behaviour. The giant panda tends to limit its social interactions and avoids steeply sloping terrain in order to limit its energy expenditures.

14. Pandas eat any of twenty-five bamboo species in the wild, such as Fargesia dracocephala and Fargesia rufa. Only a few bamboo species are widespread at the high altitudes pandas now inhabit. Bamboo leaves contain the highest protein levels; stems have less. Given this large diet, the giant panda can defecate up to 40 times a day!

15. Because of the synchronous flowering, death, and regeneration of all bamboo within a single species, the giant panda must have at least two different species available in its range to avoid starvation. While primarily herbivorous, the giant panda still retains decidedly carnivorous teeth, enabling the panda to eat meat, fish, and eggs when available. In captivity, zoos typically maintain the giant panda's bamboo diet, though some will provide specially-formulated biscuits or other dietary supplements.

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